ABOUT 18 million people of Bangladesh considered ultra-poor who account for 11.13 per cent of about 163 million population cannot afford to buy an energy consumption of 1,805 calories a day while about 35.66 million people in all, as estimated by the General Economic Division of the Planning Commission, considered poor who account for 21.8 per cent of the population cannot eat 2,122 calories a day. The situation is worrying in view of the average required calorie consumption for an adult male in Bangladesh which is 2,450 calories a day, as the Food and Agricultural Organisation defines. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 report, meanwhile, shows that the number of undernourished people in Bangladesh increased to 24.2 million in 2016–2018, up from 23.8 million in 2004–2006. It is in this context that a network of non-governmental organisations, Right to Food Bangladesh, at a national conference in Dhaka has, as New Age reported on Thursday, rightly put out a call for the passage of a law to ensure food and nutrition for all. The organisers believe that this has been a pressing demand, especially when Bangladesh is on its way to become a middle-income country by 2021.
Experts say that there have almost been no problems with the production of meat, fish, vegetables and other food items but a large number of people do not have access to such food because of poverty, which is reported to have only been growing for years. The World Bank’s Bangladesh Poverty Assessment report, made public on September 30, estimates that more than a half of the Bangladesh population is now vulnerable to poverty as the value of their consumption has stood close to the poverty threshold of $1.9. Poverty — which directly influences dietary behaviour of people — is also estimated to have decreased unevenly, especially along the eastern-western divide within the country since 2010. Such a situation has only contributed to the undernourishment of the people at large. Besides, Bangladesh also lacks in a public food distribution mechanism. The social safety net programmes that are there, including sales of food at subsidised prices, are often reported to be mired in irregularities and the programmes, therefore, fail to leave any positive impact on the nutrition of people. Campaigners of right to food, therefore, believe that if there were a specific law on this issue, there could be scope for making judicial intervention in ensuring food and nutrition for all. The legal right to food was first established by the 1996 International Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly, which in Article 11 recognises ‘the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food’ and state parties will ‘take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right.’ Bangladesh’s national laws recognise the right to be free from hunger but the right to food has yet to be recognised.
A situation like this, therefore, calls out the government on enacting a law that would recognise people’s right to food, which would greatly help in ensuring food and adequate nutrition for all. While the government must heed the call, people at large must also rally to mount pressure on the government to make this happen.
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