Food for thought from
At a time when
Sustainable Development is very much in the news, we consider it
most apposite to focus on some very unpalatable facts on
malnutrition in South Asia which are unlikely to go down too
well with governments in this part of the world. As disclosed in
our front page news report on the subject, child malnutrition in
South Asia is as high as 46 percent, whereas even in Sub-Saharan
Africa the corresponding rate is 26 percent.
As a World Bank, UNICEF and South Asia Food and Nutrition
Security Initiatives forum held in Nepal recently revealed, more
than one-third of all child deaths in South Asia are caused by
malnutrition. The latter is the single biggest cause of child
mortality in this region and is the trigger to a range of
childhood disabilities and debilitating conditions. Besides
being underweight and stunted, malnourished children are prone
to a number of diseases. Thus, it could be seen that there is
more than meets the eye in the socio-economic landscape of South
There is considerable consolation for Sri Lanka in the form
of the disclosure that breastfeeding is highest in Sri Lanka in
this region and the inference could very well be drawn that Sri
Lanka is relatively free of the numerous scourges economic
hardship brings for the denizens of this region. Nevertheless,
the statistics on malnutrition and kindred health and social
blights should remind the SAARC region that much needs to be
done by way of development.
Over the past few days we have argued in favour of
Sustainable Development and these disquieting disclosures on the
nutritional status of South Asia's children constitute the proof
that we are right in our advocacy of this ideal of development.
In sum, Sustainable Development is all about ensuring that we
have equitable growth coupled with judicious use of natural
resources. Growth, to be meaningful, that is, should be equally
distributed while being protective of the earth's resources. A
growth model that is not sensitive to equity and the judicious
use of natural resources cannot conduce towards development in
the truest sense of the word.
Therefore, South Asia's political and social elites need to
pause more than a while and ponder on where they are heading in
terms of development. Problems such as malnutrition are the
direct results of poverty and the lack of economic equity. The
more knowledgeable of observers now know for a fact that this
region leaves very much to be desired on the question of
redistributive justice or the equal distribution of wealth.
While per capita income could be considerable among many of our
countries, this does not necessarily mean that we are having
economic equity in a very substantial sense.
Thus, poverty and redistributive justice are remaining huge
challenges for the SAARC region. Inasmuch as the performance of
individual economies of this region must be assessed critically,
the question of whether SAARC is living up to the ideals
expected of it, to at least a degree, needs to be searchingly
analyzed. The reality needs to be addressed frankly that very
many countries of this region favour very fat defence budgets
over social welfare bursaries. For many states, 'guns' are
preferable to 'rice' and the unsettling result of this choice
could be malnourished populations. Besides, there is big power
military involvement in some of our states which is preventing
them from addressing their social needs. This external factor
too is predisposing some states to have huge military budgets.
If these powers leave South Asia alone, our development
prospects could be brighter.
It is our considered opinion that the political and social
elites of this region need to do a lot of soul-searching on the
issue of whether they are living far too opulently,
extravagantly and unconscionably. We in Sri Lanka could be glad
that the principal pillars of the welfare state system have been
left standing in this country over the years, although
neo-liberal economic policies have been permitted to aggravate
economic inequalities to a degree. Yet, it is of some relief
that the principal political parties of this country are
currently addressing the issue Parliament exercising greater
supervisory control over public finances. There seems to be a
growing consensus over the political divide in this country that
new Parliamentary watch dog bodies need to be brought into being
for the purpose of ensuring accountability in the use of the tax
Still, SAARC should forge ahead collectively and concertedly
towards development in the face of unsettling realities, such
as, increasing pauperization of the masses. SAARC was brought
into being way back in 1985 and the thought is quite disturbing
that nothing much could be shown by way of regional prosperity.
A fresh, collective South Asian resolve seems to be needed in
the direction of regional development, correctly understood.