According to the recently released Global Hunger Index report, India is ranked 107th out of 123 countries, down from 101st in 2021. The government has rejected the report, claiming it is an attempt to “taint” India, questioning its methodology, and emphasising the government’s significant efforts to improve access to foodgrains for India’s poor.
GS Paper 2: health, hunger and Poverty
Even with a number of programmes in place to combat malnutrition, India faces a formidable challenge. Discuss. (250 words)
Concerning the Global Hunger Index (GHI)
- The GHI is an annual publication launched in 2006 by Welthungerhilfe (a German private aid organisation) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
- In 2018, IFPRI ceased to be a publisher. Since then, two European NGOs, Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide, have released the GHI.
- The Global Hunger Index 2022 marks the 17th edition.
- Goal: Comprehensively measure and track hunger on a global, regional, and national scale.
- Yardstick: The index is based on four indicators, which are as follows:
- Malnutrition: The proportion of the population whose caloric intake is insufficient. This is the most familiar concept of hunger. This accounts for one-third of the GHI score.
- Child stunting: The proportion of children under the age of five who are short for their age, indicating chronic malnutrition. This accounts for one-sixth of the GHI score.
- Child wasting: The proportion of children under the age of five who are underweight for their height, indicating acute malnutrition. This accounts for one-sixth of the GHI score.
- Child mortality: The proportion of children who die before reaching the age of five, reflecting, in part, the fatal combination of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments. This accounts for one-third of the GHI score.
- Scores: The overall score is assigned on a scale of 100 points, with a lower score being better (0 means no hunger).
Concerns about India in the Index
- Serious category: A score between 20 and 34.9 is classified as “serious,” and India falls into this category with a total score of 1.
- Except for war-torn Afghanistan, India ranks last among South Asian countries.
- Worst global picture: The most concerning global picture is that of child wasting, in which India has regressed to a level worse than it was three decades ago.
- Child Wasting: At 3%, India’s child wasting rate (low weight for height) is higher than in 2014 (15.1%) and even 2000 (17.15%).
- It is the highest for any country in the world and, due to India’s large population, drives up the region’s average.
- Undernourishment: The prevalence of undernourishment in India has risen from 6% in 2018-2020 to 16.3% in 2019-2021.
- This translates to 224.3 million undernourished people in India, out of a total of 828 million undernourished people worldwide.
- Child Stunting: India has made progress, with child stunting falling from 7% to 35.5% between 2014 and 2022.
- Child mortality: Between 2014 and 2022, child mortality fell from 6% to 3.3%.
Reasons for government retaliation
- The Indian government has criticised the GHI for the second year in a row.
- The government’s argument is based on three grounds, which are as follows:
- Hunger definition: The GHI employs “an erroneous measure of hunger” by defining hunger in terms of factors other than a lack of food.
- Not holistic: Because three of the four variables used are related to children, they cannot be representative of the entire population.
- Small sample size: The fourth indicator, the proportion of undernourished people, is based on estimates from the Food and Agricultural Organization, which are based on an opinion poll conducted with a very small sample size of 3000 (Gallup World Poll’s survey).
- Insensitivity: The government also claimed that the report deliberately ignores efforts made by the government to ensure food security for the population, such as providing additional free food grains to 80 crore Indians beginning in March 2020, in addition to entitlements under the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013.
Examining the index
- Evaluating sample representativeness: In addition to its small size, the Gallup sampling methodology differs from the norm in India.
- Furthermore, because the FAO has not released standard errors for their estimates, it is difficult to assess whether the increase in the proportion of Indian households experiencing hunger, from 14.8% in 2013-15 to 16.3% in 2019-21, is statistically significant, given the difficulties in collecting data during the pandemic.
- Inadequate and poorly described data: The Global Hunger Index is riddled with insufficient and poorly described data.
- The index raises questions about whether it is truly measuring hunger or simply grouping together various indicators that have only a weak relationship with hunger.
- No comprehensive picture: The problem with GHI is that it directs governmental attention to cross-national comparisons, which can lead to the rejection of underlying issues and the sidelining of public discourse.
- Non-hunger-related indicators: While undernourishment may indicate the proportion of people who are hungry, the latter three, namely stunting, wasting, and mortality, are only partially related to hunger. As an example, consider the following:
- Exemplification: Child mortality is heavily influenced by a country’s disease climate and public health system.
- Today, 40 out of every 1,000 children in India die before reaching the age of five, with 27 of these deaths occurring in the first month of life.
- This suggests that many child deaths are caused by conditions associated with birth, such as congenital conditions or delivery complications, rather than hunger.
- Poverty is not the only cause: UNICEF notes in an article titled “Stop Stunting” that stunted children exist even in the richest households. As a result, poverty is not a direct cause of stunting.
- Stunting is caused by a variety of factors, including infant and child care practises, hygiene, dietary diversity, and cultural practises surrounding maternal diet during pregnancy.
- Wasting is also associated with illnesses and a lack of food intake, not necessarily hunger. Children suffering from diarrhoea, for example, are less likely to eat, and their nutritional status makes them more susceptible to disease.
- Different trends for different indicators: According to the National Family Health Survey 2 and 5, the child mortality rate fell from 95 deaths per thousand to 40 deaths per thousand between 1998-1999 and 2019-21. This is a significant improvement due to increased immunisation coverage and hospital delivery.
- Child stunting decreased significantly, from 51.5% to 35.5%, possibly due to improved water and sanitation systems.
- Wasting has barely changed, falling from 19.5 percent to 19.3 percent.
The way forward
- In addition to caloric intake as a nutrition indicator, other aspects of food deprivation, such as vitamin and mineral intake, fat consumption, diet diversity, and breastfeeding practises, must be closely monitored.
- Additionally, to ensure transparency, international agencies must only use data that is freely available in the public domain, as well as key characteristics such as respondents’ education, residence, and age.