With Sri Lanka still plagued by an inequitable distribution of wealth and resources including food and with malnutrition or undernourishment reported to be much higher than official figures for immediate relief we could take a lesson from what some social justice groups are doing in India and other countries. According to a report in the Guardian The Robin Hood Army (RHA) is an Indian organization which collects food from restaurants, weddings, feasts and other events and distributes it to the poor and orphanages. Started by six young Indians in August last year, it soon became a nationwide movement with 500 volunteers working across 13 cities collecting and distributing food, with similar groups operating across the border in Karachi and Lahore.
Founders Neel Ghose and Anand Sinha were inspired by Portugal’s Refood International. But India already had one such model – the Centre for Development Communication (CDC), a Jaipur NGO founded in 2010 by Dr. Vivek Agrawal who formed it after seeing children looking for food in garbage heaps following a marriage feast, the Guardian says.
According to the CDC, there are an estimated seven million weddings in India during the season. Nearly twenty per cent of the food prepared and worth around US$3 million, is thrown away. One RHA spokesman says that in Hyderabad, four volunteers fed 970 people from what was left after one wedding. According to the report many restaurant owners co-operate. The food is kept in fridges overnight and checked by doctors before being distributed. In 2012, up to 10,000 people were fed solely on leftovers from 16 weddings.
Mr. Ghose emphasises there should be more sustainable ways to tackle food poverty in South Asia. Food donations are not the solutions to food wastage or poverty, but food redistribution can help alleviate its impact. Such efforts are needed not just in India or across the third world. France passed a law last year making it illegal for restaurants to throw away or destroy food items nearing expiry. Volunteers now collect such items and distribute them among the poor, homeless and other needy groups.
But it’s the third world which has the largest share of food poverty. India is home to a quarter of the world’s undernourished people. But it wastes more than seven billion US dollars worth of fruit and vegetables a year, the Guardian reveals. In Sri Lanka, too, both undernourishment and malnutrition remain serious problems. The problem could be bigger than what official figures suggest. According to one knowledgeable source, doctors sometimes tend to attribute rural deaths to other causes when malnutrition is the real culprit. According to Save the Children Fund, millions of children will continue to suffer into the next century from physical and mental stunting as a result of undernutrition despite world leaders pledging last year to eradicate all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
This news came during a global summit on food security in Rio de Janeiro last week, a follow up to the 2013 London summit which pledged US$23 billion to end malnutrition. But Save the Children estimates that there will still be 129 million malnourished children by 2030, with children in more than 50 countries projected to be malnourished far into the next century.
The problem is acute especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Rates have increased since 2000 in 13 countries, including Papua New Guinea and Eritrea while in Niger and Malawi, stunting is forecast to be eradicated only in 2152, the Guardian adds. While malnutrition is a serious issue, the fact remains that millions more manage to eat only very basic food items, and only sparingly, due to high food prices and taxes on electricity, water, housing and consumer goods which leave many households struggling. While tackling food poverty and malnutrition is a responsibility of governments, volunteer groups such as India’s RHA can help a great deal in offering a good meal to the underprivileged and thereby easing not just hunger but anger and simmering social tensions.