The concept of ‘food security’ has just taken a dive with the reports of school children in the state of Bihar in India dying from eating food contaminated with insecticide. The children who come from poor backgrounds had been given lunch consisting of rice, soyabeans and lentils as part of a free meals programme. The children were aged between 4 to 12 and so far the death toll stands at 25.
The meaning of food security takes on a whole different meaning and suffers from a double whammy in this tragic case. A free food programme is instigated to ensure that there is a supply of food but no checks are made to ensure that the food is secure enough to be eaten. It’s not about having enough food anymore it is also about trusting those who store and serve the food and in a corrupt country how can one be sure of this?
The tragedy stinks of an Asian malaise that views the poor as not worthy of any existence safe for their use as domestic and factory slaves. It is not just India that suffers from this, hence my use of the term ‘Asia’. I know of an orphanage in South East Asia that was sent leftover food from a party held at a home of rich people. The food had gone off and the children contracted food poisoning. Despite Asia being the rising stars of the emerging economies the stories that emanate from the region of indifference and cruelty are recurring and show no signs of being overlaid with a compassion that ought to be dawning in the 21st century.
Amartya Sen has just written a book about the lack of justice shown to the poor in India. He says that he wonders why a link is not being made between economic growth and human development. He says that a failure to recognise both as crucial components of development is unethical and unsustainable. In a brilliant example of the class system in India he cites condominiums being built according to planning regulations of which none relate to servants having to have toilets.
Everytime a tragedy happens in Asia it seems as if tragedy is being recycled – cyclones, floods, people caught in landslides – but this Bihar case has just taken human rights down a spiral staircase with no exit.