ISLAMABAD: Left-wing parliamentarians, intellectuals and rights campaigners from five South Asian states on Sunday blamed neo-liberal economic policies, natural disasters and bad governance for the rising incidences of poverty, hunger and unemployment in the region. “These policies affect peasants, workers and children the most,” they said.
They called for legislation and urgent steps by the South Asian governments to secure food sovereignty and to ensure the provision of food to more than one billion people of the region.
They expressed these views at the inaugural session of a two-day round-table caucus of parliamentarians on “Food Sovereignty”, organised by Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee. The participants hailing from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan spoke on scores of issues ranging from food insecurity, poverty and neo-liberal economic policies to climate change and natural disasters.
They criticised what they called “ruthless privatization policies” being pursued by regional governments under “the onslaught of neo-liberal economic policy”. They held the outdated feudal system as one of the main causes of hunger and poverty, which are growing at an alarming rate.
“Half of the world’s one billion hungry people live in South Asia,” said Tariq Farooq of the Labour Party Pakistan. “The recent floods in Pakistan, which affected 17 million acres of land, further contributed to the increase in poverty,” he said. He added that around one million people, the majority of whom were poor, were forced to leave their homes.
He chided the government for not paying compensation to the workers and peasants devastated by the floods in a time of soaring food prices. “With large scale damage to agriculture and billions of dollars worth of crops and livestock destroyed, the supply of food has decreased drastically,” he added.
“Peasants in the region’s villages are exploited, discriminated against and even tortured by feudal landlords,” said Probadh Panda, a leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and member of the Indian parliament’s lower house, Lok Sabah. He said that according to a government survey, 78 per cent of India’s people earned less than Rs20 a day, which amounts to about $0.44, far below the $2 poverty line. Although there are no clear criteria for defining poverty, a person should have at least 24,000 calories a day, according to the minimum global standard.
On the subject of land reforms, he revealed that only three Indian states -- Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura -- managed to carry out effective programmes. Reform efforts in other states proved to be ineffective, where his party does not exercise much influence.
He said the CPI plans to stage a massive sit-in in Delhi and has the support of workers, peasants and other sections of the lower strata.
Prem Dangal, Secretary General of All Nepal Peasant Federation, said that the region’s countries would have to take “revolutionary steps” to secure food sovereignty. He was of the view that if South Asian governments adopt pro-people policies, the public would come to defend such policies as they did in Venezuela.
Six million children under the age of five die each year and 25,000 every day because of hunger and chronic malnutrition, according to a report prepared by the South Asian Alliance for Poverty Eradication released on the occasion.
According to a Planning Commission of Pakistan statistics poverty has increased from 23.9 per cent in 2005 to 37.5 per cent in 2009. About 64 million people fell below the poverty line in 2008 from 35 million in 2005.Ruling People’s Party member of parliament MNA Farahnaz Ispahani, who is media adviser to President Asif Zardari, and opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Q MNA Riaz Fatyana, who is Chairman of National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights, moderated the session.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2011.
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