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India’s hidden hunger crisis

Just five minutes walk from one of Delhi’s top hotels, Jyanti Kharka tells me that she can’t afford to feed her family.

Her eldest daughter, Suhani, died recently, aged six, almost certainly because Jyanti was unable to give her regular, nutritious food. Jyanti’s surviving children, Vishal and Reshma, often fall sick.

A young mother of two, Jyanti came to Delhi with her husband, a labourer, in search of a better life. But instead, like millions of others, she faces a daily struggle just to put food on their table.

There’s no electricity to light her home and her face is gaunt with worry. Her skin hangs from the bones of her wrist.

No ID, no food

The Indian government runs the largest food distribution network in the world. But mothers like Jyanti who migrate to the capital often don’t have an ID card with them and so go hungry.

The government’s network of child development centres also provides some education and supplementary food for the poorest. But these centres give just one bowl per family. That’s often not enough to survive on.

It’s an oversight that almost certainly cost Jyanti her daughter.

‘National shame’

Despite a growing economy, India has the highest number of malnourished children of any country in the world. Malnutrition rates in India are comparable with some of the poorest countries in Africa.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has acknowledged that malnutrition is “a national shame”. But much more needs to be done to ensure that children have enough to eat.

Without enough nutritious food, a child is likely to become stunted, unable to reach their full potential and will earn on average 20% less later in life.

That’s a huge problem in India, where just under half of all children are stunted. Tackling malnutrition would mean millions more children growing up healthy and better able to work. Ultimately they would boost India’s economy and help to pull the country out of poverty.

End hunger

As food prices hit record levels around the world, it’s more important than ever to tackle hunger.

Save the Children is calling for David Cameron to host a world food summit in London just after the Olympics to agree an action plan on global malnutrition. We hope the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh will attend and commit to ending hunger for good.

Take action

Name a day when you’ll do one thing to save children’s lives – from sending a tweet to cooking a meal – and we’ll challenge David Cameron to do the same.

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