1.A flood of questions (The Hindu)

2.Key to improving nutrition (The Financial Express)

1.A flood of questions (The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the interlinking projects of rivers (GS paper III)

Overview

  • Indian government is all set to begin work on an estimated $87 billion plan to connect around 60 of India’s largest rivers; this includes the Ganga. The project is expected to help end farmers’ dependence on fickle monsoon rains, bring millions of hectares of cultivable land under irrigation and help generate thousands of megawatts of electricity.

Background

  • The river-linking plan was first proposed in 2002 by then government. However, it was stalled as States failed to end differences over water sharing contracts and clearances. This government has been able push through clearances for the first phase of the project. Work is now set to link the Betwa and Ken rivers which pass through Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Issues

  • Firstly there is need to sort out several issues, before billions of rupees are spent on a project like this. Water is listed as entry 17 in List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. While the government has initiated discussions to bring the subject under the concurrent list, it may not be an easy task to achieve. Also, if there are changes in the political dispensation in various States, the government in a State that is upstream, for example, may refuse to share water with downstream States.
  • When there has been a deficient monsoon, we have seen conflicts arise among States over water access. Thus, without having a full-fledged architecture to solve disputes, it would not be prudent to embark on a mammoth project like this.
  • India is technically poor with respect to data related to the water sector. Unlike other countries, the Central Statistics Office has neither attempted nor funded studies to gather data on water tables at an all-India or State level. Many water stressed countries produce these on a regular basis at a regional level and link them to national accounts statistics.
  • Basically, water resource accounts provide an accounting framework that enables the integration of specialised physical resource sector data with other information on the economics of water supply and use in a structure that is consistent with the way data on economic activities are organised in the system of national accounts.
  • The government should pay more attention to its ‘more crop per drop’ mission, to what extent Indian agriculture follows this practice and whether water-stressed regions are water exporters due to the crops they cultivate.
  • However, there is a dearth of studies in the Indian context unlike other countries addressing the gap by first analysing water flows embodied in agriculture products moving between the States to create knowledge on the flows. The absence of a well-informed water policy reflects a knowledge governance gap.

Way ahead

  • The opponents of the projects say that interlinking of rivers is a very expensive proposal. It has huge adverse environmental impacts on land, forests, biodiversity, rivers and the livelihood of millions of people. It is a socially disruptive proposition. It will not only add to climate change impact (destruction of forests means destruction of carbon sinks, and reservoirs in tropical climate are known sources of methane and carbon dioxide), but will also reduce our capacity to adapt to climate change. Thus there is much to be done before embarking on a gigantic project of river linking. 

Question India’s current use of groundwater is not sustainable. The focus of our water resources development should be on how the groundwater lifeline can be sustained. Will Interlinking of rivers help in this? Critically analyse.

2.Key to improving nutrition (The Financial Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the misinformed analysis by IFPRI. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • India has a “serious” hunger problem and ranks 100 among 119 developing countries, lagging behind countries such as North Korea and Iraq, said the global hunger index report released by Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  • Surveys on hunger suggest that like poverty, it is more a relative, than absolute, concept. The best policy to increase nutrition is via sanitation and clean water.

Different measures

  • According to the Tendulkar poverty line, absolute poverty in India in 2011/12 came out to be around 12%, not 23% as officially reported. The difference between 23% and 12% is the difference in measurement of consumption measured on a 30-day recall basis for food rather than the more accurate 7-day recall basis.
  • According to the IFPRI, India’s poor performance brings to the fore the disturbing reality of the country’s stubbornly high proportions of malnourished children more than one-fifth of Indian children under five weigh too little for their height and over a third are too short for their age.
  • But it has been analysed that misinformed and faulty analysis done by IFPRI, “in the name of the poor” povertarians are back with a bang. On the close examination, the IFPRI hunger index is not a hunger index at all; it is an index about child mortality, and stunting, and wasting, and undernourishment of children.
  • Improvement in these indicators is an important social goal, but it is important that we identify the proper causes so that a proper remedy can be prescribed. Otherwise, organisations run the risk of being ridiculed, and dismissed, as mere publicity-seekers.
  • A definition of hunger is needed to evaluate policies to alleviate hunger. The conventional approach is to measure hunger via calorie consumption. This approach has a long history and follows from first principles.
  • Hunger, by definition, is lack of food. The most basic form of food is calories; therefore, the reasoning is that lack of food is a good proxy for lack of calories. The chain of IFPRI reasoning is as follows- Hunger = Poverty = Lack of Food = Low consumption of Calories.
  • As part of the regular consumer and expenditure surveys, the NSS has been regularly collecting data on the magnitude of hunger in India. There is an alternative survey measure of hunger for India (and most countries of the world) provided by Gallup surveys. The question they have asked since 2007 is- “Does your family have insufficient money to meet food needs”?
  • Two separate indices are reported for the IFPRI index, one for 2014 and one for 2015. Note that for most regions (except South Asia and India), the new IFPRI hunger index (because of separate indices for stunting and wasting rather than one joint index of underweight) has nearly double the proportion of hunger.
  • According to the Gallup hunger index, about 22% of the South Asian population suffers from hunger, somewhat more than the corresponding 32% for the thrice richer East Asian nation. Malnutrition affects stunting and weight, and despite having considerably higher per capita income, India has the same IFPRI nutrition (reported as hunger) status as sub-Saharan Africa. There is a genuine nutrition absorption problem in India.

Problem of sanitation

  • Arvind Virmani (The Sudoku of Growth, Poverty and Malnutrition: Policy Implications for Lagging States, Planning Commission, 2007) was the first to highlight the importance of sanitation in determining nutrition status.
  • For instance, a child suffering from diarrhoea much of the time is unlikely to be able to ingest much good and healthy food and absorb the nutrition, even if it is freely available and provided to the child by the mother-parents.
  • In the Indian environment access to water and toilets, breast feeding to impart immunity in an unhealthy environment, access to sound health advice-treatment, prevalence of vaccination and availability of vitamin supplements are indicators of bad health, malnutrition etc. 
  • The important roles that open defecation played in explaining India’s bad indicators relative to sub-Saharan Africa. The government started the drive to stop open defecation.

Way ahead

  • India have not been considerably better-off in terms of health, nutrition and welfare if instead of spending thousands of crores on food subsidies, India had spent monies on essential public goods like sanitation.

Question “Sanitation push is key to improving nutrition in India” elaborate.