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Urban poverty and malnutrition in Bhopal

Maheen MIRZA

05 / 2010

The state of Madhya Pradesh has seen rapid urbanisation in the past two decades. The lack of livelihood opportunities, especially in sectors like agriculture, coupled with restrictions imposed on the use of forests, has resulted in the migration of the poor from rural areas to cities.

Urban areas have come to symbolise, and apparently seem to provide, better income and employment opportunities. However, the people who move in to access these opportunities tend to remain on the socio-economic margins, struggling to meet the most basic requirements of life and livelihood. One of the most intense struggles is for food. In recent times there has been some attempt to highlight the extent of malnutrition among the poor, but the focus has largely been on rural areas. The urban situation remains under-explored, but it is very relevant particularly in the context of the food security legislation the government is poised to introduce.

More than 42% of the urban population of Madhya Pradesh is designated Below Poverty Line (BPL), compared to 37% in rural areas. […] Further, the nutritional status of people in urban areas by and large presents a dismal picture […]. 70.1% of persons in urban areas of the country consume below the NSS intake calorie norm when compared to 61.3% of their rural counterparts.

According to the Census of India 2001, Bhopal has a population of approximately 14.34 lakh. Estimates put the slum population at over 6 lakh.[…] In Bhopal in recent times, a large number of settlements have come up on the periphery of the main slums and on the outskirts of the city.

The urban poor comprise a large segment of the urban population and their nutritional status is much worse than their richer counterparts. The disparity between the income levels of different socio-economic groups is so vast that an average would actually run the danger of under-reporting malnutrition. Secondly, in most urban surveys smaller slums and settlement clusters tend to get left out of the sampling owing to their unrecognised status, unless specifically targeted. It is these settlements that constitute the most vulnerable and poor populations of urban areas. In the few studies that have attempted to study the urban poor, it is evident that the nutritional status of people living here is as bad – if not worse – than the rural average.

The findings of the study and an analysis of issues pertaining to urban areas in general and to specific communities in particular have been presented in the articles to follow. In-depth interviews, observation, discussions and conversations were held with members of the communities to determine the factors that affect availability, access, provisioning and consumption of food. An attempt has also been made to evaluate government policies related to food and nutrition from the perspective of the community, and build a critique of the interventions constructed at the national and international level, the impact and price of which is paid directly by them.

(Excerpts from Urban poverty and malnutrition increase in Madhya Pradesh)

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