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Explained: Why India trails in Global Hunger Index

In Global Hunger Index report, India has the highest percentage of children who suffer from acute undernutrition. On other parameters, where India has improved, the pace has been relatively slow.

Written by Udit Misra | New Delhi |
Updated: October 17, 2019 10:54:25 pm
Simply Put — Global Hunger index: Why India trails The GHI slots countries on a scale ranging from “low” hunger to “moderate”, “serious”, “alarming”, and “extremely alarming”. India is one of the 47 countries that have “serious” levels of hunger.

The latest Global Hunger Index (GHI) has ranked India a lowly 102 among the 117 countries it has mapped. In 2018, India was pegged at 103 but last year 119 countries were mapped. So while the rank is one better this year, in reality, India is not better off in comparison to the other countries. The GHI slots countries on a scale ranging from “low” hunger to “moderate”, “serious”, “alarming”, and “extremely alarming”. India is one of the 47 countries that have “serious” levels of hunger.

On the whole, the 2019 GHI report has found that the number of hungry people has risen from 785 million in 2015 to 822 million. It further states that “multiple countries have higher hunger levels now than in 2010, and approximately 45 countries are set to fail to achieve ‘low’ levels of hunger by 2030”.

What is the Global Hunger Index?

The GHI has been brought out almost every year by Welthungerhilfe (lately in partnerships with Concern Worldwide) since 2000; this year’s report is the 14th one. A low score gets a country a higher ranking and implies a better performance.

The reason for mapping hunger is to ensure that the world achieves “Zero Hunger by 2030” — one of the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the United Nations. It is for this reason that GHI scores are not calculated for certain high-income countries.

While in common parlance hunger is understood in terms of food deprivation, in a formal sense it is calculated by mapping the level of calorie intake.

Source: Global Hunger Index 2019

But the GHI does not limit itself to this narrow definition of hunger. Instead, it tracks the performance of different countries on four key parameters because, taken together, these parameters capture multiple dimensions — such a deficiency of micronutrients — of hunger, thus providing a far more comprehensive measure of hunger.

How does GHI measure hunger?

For each country in the list, the GHI looks at four indicators:

* Undernourishment (which reflects inadequate food availability): calculated by the share of the population that is undernourished (that is, whose caloric intake is insufficient);

* Child Wasting (which reflects acute undernutrition): calculated by the share of children under the age of five who are wasted (that is, those who have low weight for their height);

* Child Stunting (which reflects chronic undernutrition): calculated by the share of children under the age of five who are stunted (that is, those who have low height for their age);

* Child Mortality (which reflects both inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environment): calculated by the mortality rate of children under the age of five (in part, a reflection of the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition.

Each country’s data are standardised on a 100-point scale and a final score is calculated after giving 33.33% weight each to components 1 and 4, and giving 16.66% weight each to components 2 and 3.

Countries scoring less than or equal to 9.9 are slotted in the “low” category of hunger, while those scoring between 20 and 34.9 are in the “serious” category and those scoring above 50 are in the “extremely alarming” category.

What is India’s score relative to those of the others?

Among the BRICS grouping, India is ranked the worst, with China at 25 and a score of just 6.5. Within South Asia, too, India is behind every other country. Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan (in that order) are all ahead of India.

Some of the other countries ahead of India are Saudi Arabia (rank 34), Venezuela (rank 65, even as its score has doubled from just over 8 to over 16, because of the socio-economic and political crisis), Lesotho (rank 79), Burkina Faso (rank 88), and North Korea (rank 92).

In stark contrast to India, which has the world’s largest democracy and one of the biggest economies, most of the countries below India on the GHI — Afghanistan, Haiti or Yemen etc — are either poorly governed or war-torn or ravaged by natural calamities.

Why is India ranked so low on GHI?

With an overall score of 30.3, India finds itself sandwiched between Niger (score 30.2, rank 101) and Sierra Leone (score 30.4, rank 103). In 2000, India’s score was 38.8 and its hunger level was in the “alarming” category. Since then, India has steadily improved on most counts to reduce its score and is now slotted in th” “serious” category.

But the pace of India’s improvement has been relatively slow. Nothing illustrates this better than the trajectory of Niger and Sierra Leone, which in 2000 had scores of 52.1 and 53.6, respectively, and found themselves in the “extremely alarming” category of hunger — and were much worse off than India.

So, even though India has improved its score, many others have done more and that explains why despite achieving relatively fast economic growth since 2000, India has not been able to make commensurate strides in reducing hunger.

What are the reasons for which India’s improvements have been slow?

For one, notwithstanding the broader improvements, there is one category — Child Wasting, that is, children with low weight for their height — where India has worsened. In other words, the percentage of children under the age of 5 years suffering from wasting has gone up from 16.5 in 2010 to 20.8 now. Wasting is indicative of acute undernutrition and India is the worst among all countries on this parameter.

“India’s child wasting rate is extremely high at 20.8 percent — the highest wasting rate of any country in this report for which data or estimates were available. Its child stunting rate, 37.9 percent, is also categorized as very high in terms of its public health significance… In India, just 9.6 percent of all children between 6 and 23 months of age are fed a minimum acceptable diet,” states the report.

“In 2014 the prime minister instituted the ‘Clean India’ campaign to end open defecation and ensure that all households had latrines. Even with new latrine construction, however, population’s health and consequently children’s growth and development as their ability to absorb nutrients is compromised,” it said.

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