The Guardian (UK)
Four in every 10 children in India are malnourished despite the country's economy growing at an average rate of 9% a year, one of the world's leading development economists warned yesterday.
Kevin Watkins, who edited the UN's human development report, said that despite growing prosperity brought on by a sustained boom, child malnourishment in India is higher than in Ethiopia and well above the African average of 28%.
"India dominates the world hunger league," he said. "Economists like to debate the factors behind India's spectacular take-off. Perhaps they should be asking how a country can grow so fast with such a limited impact on child hunger."
Watkins's warning follows comments by India's finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, who said last week that he wanted India to become an "economic superpower".
"I have no hesitation in saying that I do not envy China," he said. "I want to emulate China. I want India to become an economic power, an economic superpower."
When it comes to economic growth, India is a long way ahead of Bangladesh but when it come to child survival rates, it lags behind. According to Watkins, an Oxford academic, Bangladesh has been cutting child deaths at a rate some 50% higher than in India. If India, where there are about 1.1 billion people, had matched Bangladesh's record on child mortality since 1990 there would be about 200,000 fewer child deaths this year.
"Both Bangladesh and Nepal are far poorer than India, but India has a higher child death rate than either," said Watkins.
Poverty has also been falling far more slowly in India than in other high-growth developing countries, such as Vietnam and Brazil. Watkins believes that part of the problem is that the benefits of growth have been "highly skewed".
"While wealth has been flooding into urban areas and middle-class suburbs, it has been trickling down in small doses to rural areas, poor states in the north of the country, rural labourers and low-caste groups," he said.
Watkins also criticised India's public health system. He said that India's children did not receive the basic medication they so badly need such as immunisation, drugs for treating childhood diarrhoea and nutritional supplements. "Fewer than half of India's children are fully immunised and the share has barely changed in a decade," he added.
Gender inequalities are also still rife in India, with boys getting access to food and medicine before girls, according to Watkins. "Being born a girl carries high risks: it raises the chance of premature death between the ages of one and four by about one-third," he said.
India's government needs to become seriously committed to more equitable growth, strengthened provision of public services in health and action to tackle disparities based on gender, wealth and caste, the report said.
"Market indicators on economic growth, investments and exports tell us something important about the state of the economy," Watkins said. "When it comes to people, child death rates, literacy, public health and the capacity of all people to participate in society is what counts."
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