Why does India always score poorly on the Global Hunger Index? That should have been a pressing question for the country’s policymakers. The Centre and the states do have several schemes to improve the nutritional status of people in the country. But confronting the country’s nutritional problems has never acquired adequate urgency. India has consistently brought up the rear of the hunger index, that was first published in 2006. This year’s report shows that the country has slipped three positions from last year — it ties with Djibouti and war-ravaged Rwanda for the 100th rank among 119 nations. The report does mention that India has scaled up its Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme and the National Health Mission but also notes that they are yet to achieve adequate coverage.
Published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Concern Worldwide, an Irish aid agency, and Welthungerhilfe, a German private aid organisation, the Global Hunger Index tracks hunger worldwide. With more than a fifth of the country’s children under five suffering from “wasting” — low weight for height —India is among the very few countries that have made no progress, over the past 20 years, in arresting the problem. Child wasting is one of the four indicators in the Global Hunger Index. The report draws on India’s National Family Health Survey to show that the proportion of children in the country suffering the problem has increased from 17 per cent in 1998-2002 to 21 per cent in 2012-2016. This is way above the global prevalence — less than 10 per cent of under-five children suffer from wasting. Only three other countries— Djibouti, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan — have a child-wasting rate of over 20 per cent.
Many of India’s social welfare schemes — including those related to food security —have been dogged by challenges related to identifying and reaching targeted groups. In the last three years, the government has claimed that it is trying to resolve this conundrum by linking targeted welfare schemes to instruments such as Aadhaar.
The continued poor performance in the Global Hunger Index should make the government introspect the shortcomings of this endeavour. The report also carries an important message for the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM): The project should not lose sight of the links between sanitation and nutrition. Water-borne diseases like diarrhoea, for example, are known to result in poor absorption of nutrients, especially in children under five. The government would do well to take note of the implications of the Global Hunger Index for its welfare schemes.