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India ranked 101 out of 116 in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2021 from 94 in the previous year(2020), trailing behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The Global Hunger Index report termed the level of hunger in India as “serious”, which is better than its performance in 2000, when the levels of hunger were ‘alarming’.

India’s Performance

. Only 15 countries have fared worse than India. These include Papua New Guinea (102), Afghanistan (103), Nigeria (103), Congo (105), Mozambique (106), Sierra Leone (106), Timor-Leste (108), Haiti (109), Liberia (110), Madagascar (111), Democratic Republic of Congo (112), Chad (113), Central African Republic (114), Yemen (115) and Somalia (116).
. Eighteen countries, including China, Brazil and Kuwait, shared the top rank with a GHI score of less than five.

The GHI is based on four indicators —

a) Under-nourishment.
b) Wasting (low weight for height).
c) Stunting (low height for age).
d) Under-five mortality.
. India’s performance, as per the rankings, has deteriorated only for undernourishment, which is what the Government has challenged.

Publishing Agency

. The Global Hunger Index is published annually by Concern Worldwide, Ireland’s largest aid and humanitarian agency and Welthungerhilfe, one of the largest private aid organisations in Germany.
. The two are “dedicated to tackling poverty and suffering in the world’s poorest countries.
. The first GHI report was published in 2006 and the index is intended to be “a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at global, regional, and national levels”.

INDICATORS OF THE INDEX:  The GHI assesses a country’s performance on four component indicators:

Undernourishment: The share of the population that is undernourished (that is, whose caloric intake is insufficient);

Child wasting: The share of children under the age of five who are wasted (that is, who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition);

Child stunting: The share of children under the age of five who are stunted (that is, who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition); and

Child mortality: The mortality rate of children under the age of five (in part, a reflection of the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments).

The GHI determines hunger on a 100-point scale, where 0 is the best possible score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. Each country’s GHI score is classified by severity, from low to extremely alarming.


. Data for the four GHI components is taken from the United Nations and other multilateral agencies.
. For undernourishment, the values are from the 2021 edition of the FAO Food Security Indicators. The prevalence of undernourishment indicator is assessed by FAO using Food Balance Sheet data from each country.
. It measures the proportion of the population with inadequate access to calories and is based on data regarding the food supply in the country.”
. For child stunting and wasting, the data are from the 2021 edition of UNICEF, WHO, and World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates. The publishers also included data from India’s Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016–2018 National Report published in 2019.
. The under-five mortality rate data was obtained from the 2020 edition of the UN IGME (Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation) Child Mortality Estimates published in September 2020.
. The rankings from one year’s report cannot be compared to those from another” as different countries are included in the ranking every year. If a country’s ranking changes from one year to the next, it may be in part because it is being compared to a different group of countries.

Performance of India

. In the 2021 Global Hunger Index, India ranked 101 out of the 116 countries.
. With a score of 27.5, India has a level of hunger that is ‘serious’.
. According to the report, 15.3 per cent of the country’s population is undernourished, while 17.3% of children under the age of five are wasted, and 34.7 per cent of children under the age of 5 are stunted. 3.4 per cent of children die before their fifth birthday.
. India has the highest child wasting rate of all countries covered in the index.
. Since 2000, India has made substantial progress, but there are still areas of concern, particularly regarding child nutrition. India’s GHI score has decreased from a 2000 GHI score of 38.8 points—considered alarming—to a 2021 GHI score of 27.5—considered serious.
. The proportion of undernourished in the population and the under-five child mortality rate are now at relatively low levels.
. While child stunting has seen a significant decrease—from 54.2 percent in 1998–1999 to 34.7 percent in 2016–2018—it is still considered very high.
. At 17.3 percent—according to the latest data—India has the highest child wasting rate of all countries covered in the GHI. This rate is slightly higher than it was in 1998–1999, when it was 17.1 percent.

Government’s Criticism of Report

. Upset over the low rankings, the government alleged the publishing agencies didn’t do their due diligence before releasing the report. The government has questioned the undernourishment data provided by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which it says is based on a ‘four question’ telephone poll.
. This is also the only indicator in the report that has shown a deterioration in India, the other three have either improved or remained unchanged.
. According to FAO’s data, which is used in the Index, the prevalence of undernourishment in India rose from 14% in 2017-2019 to 15.3% in 2018-2020.
. Firstly, the government has alleged that a “selective approach” has been “adopted by the publishing agencies to deliberately lower India’s rank on the GHI 2021”.
. Secondly, the government has said the index disregarded the effort made to feed people during the pandemic. This is because the poll failed to ask if the respondent received food support from the government.
. Thirdly, the government argued that the index should have relied on height and weight to assess undernourishment.
. Fourthly, the Ministry of Women and Child Development also said that it is not possible to evaluate the extent of malnutrition for the period before 2018 as there were no growth monitoring devices available at anganwadis until they were introduced under the Poshan Abhiyaan.
. In fact, real-time data from the government’s POSHAN portal shows that only 3.9% of the children served by government programs are undernourished.
. The real time data of beneficiaries registered on the Anganwadi platform include 7.79 crore children aged between 6 months to 6 years as per real-time Poshan Tracker data [as on 16-10-2021]. Corresponding number of undernourished children reported on Poshan Tracker is 30.27 lakh which comes to only 3.9%.

Publisher’s Argument

The German non-profit Welthungerhilfe (WHH) claims the agency did not in fact use the FAO’s telephone-based opinion indicator in the GHI. The index has used the undernourishment indicator, which is assessed by FAO using Food Balance Sheet data from each country. The food balance sheet represents a comprehensive picture of the pattern of a country’s food supply during a specified reference period. It shows for each food item – i.e. each primary commodity and a number of processed commodities potentially available for human consumption – the sources of supply and its utilization.

Real Grim Picture

. According to the World Health Organisation in 2019 over 8 lakh children under the age of five died in India. In 2020, with the adverse effects of the pandemic in play, this figure could be higher as nearly half of all under-5 child mortality in India is attributable to undernutrition.
. Poor nutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life can also lead to stunted growth, which is associated with impaired cognitive ability and reduced school and work performance.
. Even India’s latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) showed that children in several states were more undernourished in 2019-20 than they were five years ago, with the proportion of severely wasted children having gone up in 14 out of 18 states (including the UT of J&K).
. This is obviously a multi-prolonged challenge. Too many mothers lack the health to make healthy babies. Then diseases like diarrhea take a heavy toll, with improvements in sanitation and drinking water supply still not showing improvements in children’s disease burden. Diets are also crying for improvement, not just in quantity but also quality, and diversification. The appalling data surely reflects appalling failures at different levels of government

 (GS Paper-2/ Governance/ Poverty and Hunger)

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