The theme of this year’s World Food Day, taking place on 16 October, is Leave No One Behind. Millions of people around the world cannot afford a healthy diet, which puts them at high risk of food insecurity and malnutrition. Here, Pabak Sarkar (Phd) from The Hope Foundation writes about the challenges of hunger and malnutrition facing the communities of Kolkata, and how HOPE is meeting these challenges head-on.
Food is the fundamental necessity of human life and unequal access to food has inflicted numerous wars and famines throughout human history. The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal Number 2 calls for zero hunger by 2030.
However, according to a 2021 report by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, unseen events, like the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, have made access to food for many families difficult globally.
An internal survey by HOPE revealed that 79% of families in poor urban communities in Kolkata, West Bengal, faced difficulties in managing to access a basic meal during the pandemic lockdowns. While research conducted in 2021 – entitled the Burden of Malnutrition Among School-Going Children in a Slum Area of Kolkata: A Matter of Concern – showed that the children of the urban poor communities displayed malnutrition-related stunting and wasting even before the pandemic.
As food and nutrition plays a critical role in the development and maintenance of vital functions, inadequate diet, very early in the life, has a long-term impact on health and productivity of an individual. This fact was confirmed by the World Health Organisation’s research Stunting In a Nutshell.
Addressing Food Security and Healthy Nutrition
HOPE started its services in 1999 by providing protection and safety to 20 underprivileged girls in Kolkata. We now reach out to street and slum connected children who have been victims of severe neglect through 53 projects.
Children coming to HOPE’s Residential Care Programmes (RCP) are either abandoned or runaways, who devote a major part of their daily lives to foraging. In addition, the slum and street-connected children that HOPE works with in the communities, often engage in child labour on the streets in order to purchase food. Thus, food security and healthy nutrition have been prime focuses for HOPE’s activities.
The fundamental challenges that these children and family face regarding nutrition are:
- The children do not receive adequate number of balanced meals on daily basis.
- The children and their families lack access to food security programmes.
- The children and their family members are not aware about the components of balanced diet.
Nutrition Programmes for Young People
HOPE advocates linkage with government food security programmes, like midday meal schemes – a public distribution (ration) system for all the children and their families it works with. Accessing such government programmes can reduce the burden on struggling families.
We also intervene by providing meals directly. For the crèche and Naboasha education programmes, children are provided a healthy snack during the sessions. The residential care programmes (RCP) deliver quality meals to our residents. RCPs also take special nutritional care of chronically malnourished or infected (with tuberculosis or HIV) children.
Through various workshops HOPE creates awareness among the mothers in the community on providing a low-cost, balanced diet. It encourages the children in the RCPs to create their meal plans and engage in maintaining kitchen gardens, which gives them a good idea about food management and processing.
We work with adolescent girls to teach them about nutritional needs during and after puberty and discuss relevant issues such as eating disorders, in order to holistically address the issues of food and nutrition.
Food Insecurity During the Pandemic
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the communities served by HOPE faced unprecedented hardship for two years. Their livelihood, and subsequently income, was severely disrupted by the lockdown. One of the biggest uncertainties they faced was availability of food.
During this crisis HOPE served these communities and their children directly by providing dry rations, as well as linking these communities to the emergency government sponsored food security programmes.
In addition, we began offering dry ration and hygiene kits to the children under our education sponsorship programme during COVID-19 lockdowns and have continued it to ensure their education does not suffer due to uncertainties in accessing food.
HOPE believes food is the fundamental right and only a collection of healthy bodies and minds can lead to a flourishing society.