Meanwhile in India

Bloomberg’s latest dispatch in its year-long special report on the hunger crisis in India is just as devastating as previous dispatches. The hunger isn’t for lack of food. The food exists, the money exists, and ostensibly, the programs exist. It’s corruption and disorganization that are keeping it from babies’ bellies. Check this: “The three untended child-sized graves, a few minutes’ walk from the village of Paltupur, bear witness to what happened when the trucks loaded with nutritional powder stopped coming to this desolate corner of eastern India … More than three-quarters of [India's] 1.2 billion population eats less than the minimum targets set by the government. The ratio has risen from about two-thirds in 1983.”

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8 Comments / Post A Comment

ugh somehow the way I read this at first, the sentiment was reversed in my brain. “More than three quarters are now getting the proper food targets set by the government, up from two thirds.”

But no.

This is why they should distribute money and not food. Something sensible people have been saying about famine in India since the 19th century (and standard practice in many areas prior to British rule).

By the way, if you want to be morally appalled but with more historical distance, I highly suggest reading Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis.

selenana (#673)

@stuffisthings Isn’t it just as easy or easier to loot money? After all, the money goes to buy food… which is then looted. Speaking from inexperience, would love to be schooled.

deepomega (#22)

@selenana It’s not that money is “unlootable,” it’s that putting systems in place to get food to the people who need it is best done locally, by people with the money needed to do so.

selenana (#673)

@deepomega Yeah, but setting up programs is a hell of a lot more complicated than distributing money rather than food. And small local agencies, especially in rural areas, might have some real problems with procurement and distribution. Not saying you’re wrong, just that setting up systems that are going work is a lot harder than distributing money.

@selenana It’s no panacea but generally speaking it is better for the recipients — even at the same level of corruption. Let’s say that $10 is allocated to provide food for your family. By the time that $10 has made its way through farmers, manufacturers, administrators, and transportation companies, $5 is lost due to corruption. As a person with a hungry child, would you rather receive $5 worth of food (which may be inedible, disgusting, or arrive after your child has already died) or $5 in cash which you can use to buy whatever food may be available in your area at the time you need it?

Managing a whole logistics chain for producing and distributing food is actually much more complicated than managing the distribution of cash — even though cash, in theory, is easier to steal than food. Also, improving the cash management capabilities of line ministries would improve the delivery of a wide range of services beyond just this essential child feeding program.

If you’re really interested in this topic you might want to look up the Conditional Cash Transfer programs that have been remarkably successful in Latin America and are being expanded to other continents. I imagine that Brazil faces many of the same logistical issues in its poor rural areas yet the Bolsa Familia program covers more than 1/4 of the population and has been a remarkable success at reducing poverty and improving health and education outcomes.

@selenana Also the problem isn’t so much that food is being “looted” — it’s more that the government contracts a company to say, produce 15 tons of food that meets X quality standard and deliver it to 10 villages, and instead of doing that they produce 8 tons of lower-quality food and deliver it to 7 villages. (Typical contracting corruption of a type that happens widely even in the United States and other developed countries when contracts are not closely monitored.)

sandwiches (#1,688)

@stuffisthings Yes, thank you!

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