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Right To Food As A Human Right

Written by: Anirban Sarkar 1st Year LL.B Indian Law Society Law College Pune
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Food and its history:

The replacement of exclusive dependence upon hunting, fishing, and gathering by the beginnings of agriculture was the first great step-in human development. The rate and the scope of social evolution have depended to a major extent on the development of more effective means of obtaining food .In primitive cultures man’s struggle for food consumes most of his time, thought, and energy .the creation of surplus of food over and above what is needed to live leads to successive refinements in the subdivision of labor, which on turn make possible social and technical advances and thus the production of even greater quantities of food.

For millennia the food supply was a major factor limiting the growth of human populations and determining their density in any particular area .It is only in the last century those improvements in agricultural production have become sufficiently widespread to remove food as the limiting factor in most population growth. In combination with improved control and prevention of infectious and other diseases, an exponential increase in numbers of people has been the result.
Pressure for good agricultural land for the production of food has been major a major factor in the turbulent warfare of the historical record crop failures have resulted in population losses through death and emigration, which have impoverished and impede bed the social and economic development of populations and even whole countries.

For example, Ireland has never recovered from the high loss of starvation and emigration as direct consequences of the potato famine of the 1840; the political history of United States and Canada has been equally changed by hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants. Another example of the importance of food problems is found in the major political and economic consequences of the failure of agricultural production in the communist countries.

Why Low Food Production is a World Problem?

Low per capita food production and high rates of population growth in underdeveloped areas cause food shortage in many less developed countries, particularly in tropical and semi tropical regions. Even though 60 to 80 percent of the people in these countries are of engaged in farming, there productivity is so low that it does not meets the needs of the population. By contrast in some industrialized countries less than 8% of the population is engaged in an agricultural industry that produces vast surpluses. Although these surpluses help to meet the needs of many other parts of the world, malnutrition is widespread and persistent in the underdeveloped areas and is responsible for much of the high morality in these areas, whether by itself or in a combination with infections of various types.
Factors limiting adequate food production are primarily social and economic rather than physical. The lack of knowledge and the illiteracy of the rural population complicate attempts to increase food production as well as to control population in underdeveloped countries. Long standing customs, limited agriculture training activities, and inadequate storage and distribution facilities help to perpetuate low agricultural production these areas. Lack of the tools of scientific agriculture and security of money or credit for their purchase are major additional factors. Moreover, this in adequacy of the food supply is part of a vicious circle that keeps productivity low: malnourished populations are more vulnerable to disease and less capable of sustained work than are well nourished populations.
Continued increases in food productions can be anticipated in most of less developed countries although in many in many areas they will not be large enough to maintain adequate per capita food supplies. The additional food necessary to give at least a subsistence ration to most persons is likely to continue to come from the food surpluses of the induustrarialized countries and to be augmented by the exploitation of new protein sources.

Countries Where Malnutrition is a Severe Problem

Good nutrition is the cornerstone for survival, health and development for current and succeeding generations. Well-nourished children perform better in school, grow into healthy adults and in turn give their children a better start in life. Well-nourished women face fewer risks during pregnancy and childbirth, and their children set off on firmer developmental paths, both physically and mentally.

Malnutrition is implicated in more than half of all child deaths worldwide. Malnourished children have lowered resistance to infection; they are more likely to die from common childhood ailments like diarrhea diseases and respiratory infections, and for those who survive, frequent illness saps their nutritional status, locking them into a vicious cycle of recurring sickness and faltering growth. Their plight is largely invisible: three quarters of the children who die from causes related to malnutrition were only mildly or moderately undernourished, showing no outward sign of their vulnerability.

Poverty, low levels of education, and poor access to health services are major contributors to childhood malnutrition, a complex issue that requires tackling on a wide number of fronts. To name only a few:
* Ensuring food security for poor households, both enough food and the right kinds of food;
* Educating families to understand the special nutritional needs of young children, notably the value of breastfeeding and the importance of introducing suitable complementary foods at the right age;
* Protecting children from infections, by such measures as immunization against common childhood diseases and provision of safe water and sanitation;
* Ensuring that children receive quality care when they fall ill;
* Shielding them from the micronutrient deficiencies that can bring death and disability, especially iodine, iron and vitamin A deficiencies;
* Paying special attention to the nutritional needs of girls and women, since chronically undernourished women tend to bear low-birthweight babies and so perpetuate the vicious cycle of malnutrition into the next generation.

Progress to Date:
Overall, significant progress has been made in the reduction of child malnutrition, with underweight prevalence declining from 33 to 28 % in the developing world as a whole. The largest decline was achieved in East Asia and the Pacific where underweight levels decreased by a third (from 25% to 17%). This regional decline is driven primarily by improvements in China, where underweight prevalence declined by nearly 50% during the 1990s. However, underweight prevalence for other countries in the region did not decline at the same level. Substantial improvements were also made in the Latin America and the Caribbean region where rates fell from 11% to 7%, although overall levels were already relatively low to begin with. South Asia also experienced declines over the decade (from 53% to 47%), however, the region continues to suffer from staggeringly high levels of child malnutrition with close to half of all under five children being underweight. The underweight prevalence rates for the Middle East and North Africa region remained roughly the same. Similarly, in Sub-Saharan Africa there has been little or no change over the decade and nearly a third of all under fives remain underweight.

Overall, significant progress has been made in the reduction of child malnutrition, with underweight prevalence declining from 33 to 28 % in the developing world as a whole. The largest decline was achieved in East Asia and the Pacific where underweight levels decreased by a third (from 25% to 17%). This regional decline is driven primarily by improvements in China, where underweight prevalence declined by nearly 50% during the 1990s. However, underweight prevalence for other countries in the region did not decline at the same level. Substantial improvements were also made in the Latin America and the Caribbean region where rates fell from 11% to 7%, although overall levels were already relatively low to begin with. South Asia also experienced declines over the decade (from 53% to 47%), however, the region continues to suffer from staggeringly high levels of child malnutrition with close to half of all under five children being underweight. The underweight prevalence rates for the Middle East and North Africa region remained roughly the same. Similarly, in Sub-Saharan Africa there has been little or no change over the decade and nearly a third of all under fives remain underweight.

Overall, significant progress has been made in the reduction of child malnutrition, with underweight prevalence declining from 33 to 28 % in the developing world as a whole. The largest decline was achieved in East Asia and the Pacific where underweight levels decreased by a third (from 25% to 17%). This regional decline is driven primarily by improvements in China, where underweight prevalence declined by nearly 50% during the 1990s. However, underweight prevalence for other countries in the region did not decline at the same level. Substantial improvements were also made in the Latin America and the Caribbean region where rates fell from 11% to 7%, although overall levels were already relatively low to begin with. South Asia also experienced declines over the decade (from 53% to 47%), however, the region continues to suffer from staggeringly high levels of child malnutrition with close to half of all under five children being underweight. The underweight prevalence rates for the Middle East and North Africa region remained roughly the same. Similarly, in Sub-Saharan Africa there has been little or no change over the decade and nearly a third of all under fives remain underweight.

Overall, significant progress has been made in the reduction of child malnutrition, with underweight prevalence declining from 33 to 28 % in the developing world as a whole. The largest decline was achieved in East Asia and the Pacific where underweight levels decreased by a third (from 25% to 17%). This regional decline is driven primarily by improvements in China, where underweight prevalence declined by nearly 50% during the 1990s. However, underweight prevalence for other countries in the region did not decline at the same level. Substantial improvements were also made in the Latin America and the Caribbean region where rates fell from 11% to 7%, although overall levels were already relatively low to begin with. South Asia also experienced declines over the decade (from 53% to 47%), however, the region continues to suffer from staggeringly high levels of child malnutrition with close to half of all under five children being underweight. The underweight prevalence rates for the Middle East and North Africa region remained roughly the same. Similarly, in Sub-Saharan Africa there has been little or no change over the decade and nearly a third of all under fives remain underweight.

Overall, significant progress has been made in the reduction of child malnutrition, with underweight prevalence declining from 33 to 28 % in the developing world as a whole. The largest decline was achieved in East Asia and the Pacific where underweight levels decreased by a third (from 25% to 17%). This regional decline is driven primarily by improvements in China, where underweight prevalence declined by nearly 50% during the 1990s. However, underweight prevalence for other countries in the region did not decline at the same level. Substantial improvements were also made in the Latin America and the Caribbean region where rates fell from 11% to 7%, although overall levels were already relatively low to begin with. South Asia also experienced declines over the decade (from 53% to 47%), however, the region continues to suffer from staggeringly high levels of child malnutrition with close to half of all under five children being underweight. The underweight prevalence rates for the Middle East and North Africa region remained roughly the same. Similarly, in Sub-Saharan Africa there has been little or no change over the decade and nearly a third of all under fives remain underweight.

The number of malnourished children in the developing world declined from around 180 million at the beginning of the decade to 155 million at the end of the decade. Half of all malnourished children live in South Asia and more than one fifth in Sub-Saharan Africa. The actual number of malnourished children in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased over the decade, partly due to the lack of progress and the increase in overall population size. It is worth noting that only three countries, India, China and Bangladesh, make up half of all malnourished children in the developing world.

The underlying causes of malnutrition in many Asian countries include poverty, the low status of women, poor care during pregnancy, high rates of low birth weight, high population densities, unfavorable child caring practices, and poor access to health care. In sub-Saharan Africa, extreme poverty, inadequate caring practices, low levels of education and poor access to health services are among the major factors. Conflicts and natural disasters in many countries have further exacerbated the situation. The increase in the number of malnourished children in Africa also reflects a rapid rate of population growth. In many countries in Africa, the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS, particularly in the second half of the decade, have reversed some of the gains made in the decade's early years.

Disparities

The available data, particularly those from MICS and DHS surveys, also allow for the analysis of disparities within the population.
Data from 113 countries show that there is very little difference between boys and girls with respect to underweight prevalence. South Asia is the only region with higher underweight levels among girls than among boys. In most other regions, boys are at a slight disadvantage or no difference is found with respect to underweight prevalence by gender.
By contrast, the urban-rural differentials do show significant differences. On average, the underweight prevalence rates are more than one and a half times higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

Effects of Malnutrition

The most common severe nutritional deficiencies are those of protein and vitamin A. The best indicator of the prevalence of protein and deficiency [kwashiorkor] is the mortality rate for children one to five years of age, which commonly 20 to 50 times higher in underdeveloped countries than areas like western Europe , the united states ,Australia ,new zeland and Japan. Infant morality rates [deaths of children less than one year of age] are two to four times higher in less developed countries than in those that are industrialized. Early weaning with improper substitutes and inadequate supplementation of breast milk are important factor in morality rates for infants who survive the dangerous first months of life.[1]

Vitamin A deficiency is also most common among preschool children; it causes severe eye lesions which often result in blindness .In Indonesia and other countries of Southeast Asia, deaths from secondary infection are particularly common in children with vitamin A deficiency. The deficiency could be readily prevented by the green and yellow vegetables that are, or could be widely available in most countries. (1)

Another common problem - marasmus or partial starvation is seen most often among infants who have been prematurely weaned and fed watery gruels that are deficient in both calories and protein. A form of acute thiamine deficiency [infantile beriberi] is a cause of death among nursing infants in some south Asian countries, where a polished rice diet results in thiamine [vitamin B] deficiency in mothers. Beriberi also still occurs among many adults in these areas. Pellagra, caused by inadequate niacin and tryptophan intake, is seen in those populations of Africa.

Women experiencing repeated cycles of pregnancy and lactation are likely to develop iron deficiency anemia, loss of bone calcium, and reduced lean body mass. Malnutrition in other adults is less common, except in times of famine, although individuals unable to obtain work may be seriously undernourished because they cannot afford to buy adequate food. Alcoholism is a common cause of malnutrition in both under developed and industrialized countries because money is spent on alcohol rather than on proper food.

Right to Food: An Instance of Human Right

There is no doubt that without food no life is possible and therefore right to food is an aspect of right to life. It is necessary to find out its legal status or what kind statutory recognition is there.

Initial Recognition: Non-Justifiable Right

First time in history right to food was expressly guaranteed as human right in UDHR-1948 under Article 25. It has been provided that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food.... As it was mere declaration, this right was not enforceable.
Later on this right was adopted in the International Convention on Economic and Social Rights, which provided under Article 11 paragraph 2 ‘the right of everyone to be free from hunger as a fundamental right’. Again, as rights guaranteed under this covenant are subject to ratification realized immediately.

In India also the right is not expressly provided under the Constitution, the only relevant provisions are Article 47 of the Constitution which provide that it is the duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition... and article 48 provide for planning of agricultural and animal husbandry. But these rights are guaranteed under Part IV of constitution and therefore in pertaining to that it was characterized as a non-justifiable right.

Non-Enumerated Fundamental Right: Outcome of judicial activism

First time in Indian history the Supreme Court recognized Right to Food as Right to Life. In a significant judgment of the PUCL Vs. Union of India [2000(s)SC ALE] Supreme Court held that it right of every person who is starving because of his or her inability to purchase food grains have right to get food under Article 21. It is the duty of state to provide such persons food grains particularly from stock, which is lying with state as unused. And more particularly food grains be provided to all those who are aged, infirm, disabled, destitute women and men, pregnant and lactating women and destitute children and therefore court directed to all states to distribute food grains immediately through PDS shops.

The definition of human rights is provided under Section 2(d) of protection of Human Rights Act 1993, in the light of this definition and after above decision the legal status of Right to Food has been transformed from non-justifiable right to justifiable right. It can be described as non-enumerated but enforceable fundamental right. Right to food means adequate food, essential for descent standard of life, food free from adulteration.

Right to Food: International Perspectives

‘Human Rights’ is a universal phenomenon therefore Right to food has to be seen from international perspectives, and as it is recognized on international level expressly in many documents/ instruments quite early.

UDHR-1948

The UDHR provides under Article 25 paragraph (1) that, everyone has the right to standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. It is expressly provided first time on international level. The right is not absolute; it is an aspect of Right to health, right to livelihood. Persons are entitled only in above-mentioned circumstances.

ICESCR-1966

Article 11 paragraph (2) of the covenant recognized the right of everyone to be free from hunger as a fundamental right.
The paragraph (2) of the same article also provides measure to be adopted individually or collectively by states to achieve above-mentioned object. In particular to improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of the principles of nutrition and by developing or reforming agrarian system in such a way so as to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources. Further to ensure on equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need by taking into account the problems of both food importing and food exporting countries.

UN World Food Conference: 1974

It was convened at Rome from 5th to 6th November1974. In that Conference 22 resolutions were adopted and Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition was also made. In the preamble of the Declaration it was stated that gravity of problem is more in developing countries. The object was enunciated as elimination of hunger and malnutrition. The causes had been mentioned and also their historical circumstances, especially social inequalities, including in many cases alien and colonial domination, foreign occupation, racial discrimination, apartheid and neo-colonialism in all its forms which continue to be among the greatest obstacles to the full emancipation and progress of the developing countries and all the people involved.
Three Propositions made:
1. Equal right of all persons
2. Adequate resources
3. A common problem in all countries

Food and Agriculture Organization:

One of the objects of FAO of the United Nations is the elimination of hunger and malnutrition and to attain this object FAO has started following actions for ensuring food security:
• International undertaking on world food security of 1974.
• The plan of action on world security of 1979.
• The agenda for consultations and possible action to deal with acute and large-scale food shortages 1981.
• The world food security compact of 1985.
These all are instances of international agreements. These agreements have been entered upon by different states to achieve above purpose laid down.

World Food Programme

It is a joint programme of the United Nations and FAO. Initially it was designed on experimental basis for three years, but later on in 1965 its term was extended and it was made operational continuously for as long as multilateral food aid remained feasible and desirable. The aim of WFP is to provide food aid to support development projects and to meet emergency needs. The Economic Council and the General Assembly review the operation of the programme annually.

Beijing Declaration of the World Food Council

The World Food Council adopted the Beijing Declaration in June 1987. The member states have resolved to join together and in our united strength and interest to eliminate the scourge of hunger forever. The World Food Day is observed on 16th October every year, it was decided by FAO in the year 1979 unanimously.
 

The author can be reached at: anir@legalserviceindia.com / Print This Article

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