Monday, August 9, 2010

More or different food assistance for India's rural poor?

The front-page headline in today's New York Times is, "India Asks, Should Food Be a Right?" William Yardley reports from Jhabua, India, with devastating tales of child malnutrition. The political story is that India's Congress Party--known for keeping an eye on and responding to the woes of the rural poor--is considering changing how it delivers food aid, in part because so much of it now leaks to the less poor. Yardley reports, "[s]tudies show that 70 percent of a roughly $12 billion [food aid] budget is wasted, stolen or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs." Yardley puts the political situation in context: "Sonia Gandhi, is pushing to create a constitutional right to food and expand the existing entitlement so that every Indian family would qualify for a monthly 77-pound bag of grain, sugar and kerosene. Such entitlements have helped the Congress Party win votes, especially in rural areas."

Increasingly, it seems, poor is synonymous with "rural" In India--at least as reflected in New York Times reporting. Read earlier posts here and here. And, the Congress Party does seem to be paying attention to them. I thought this comment by Yardley was especially interesting regarding the rural-urban gap in India:
India’s ability, or inability, in coming decades to improve the lives of the poor will very likely determine if it becomes a global economic power, and a regional rival to China, or if it continues to be compared with Africa in poverty surveys.

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