Global Hunger Index

#GS1 #Poverty #Hunger

India has been ranked 94 on the 2020 Global Hunger Index (GHI), lower than neighbours like Bangladesh and Pakistan. The GHI showed that nearly 690 million people in the world are undernourished; 144 million children suffer from stunting, a sign of chronic undernutrition; 47 million children suffer from wasting, also a sign of acute undernutrition.


What is the Global Hunger Index?

  • The GHI is an annual peer-reviewed publication by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe. It aims to track hunger at global, regional and national levels. It uses four parameters to calculate its scores.
  • One third of the score comes from the level of undernourishment in a country, which is the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake, and uses Food and Agriculture Organization data.
  • The other three parameters are based on children under the age of five years. A third of the score comes from child mortality rate, which often reflects the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments. The remaining third of the score is based on child wasting, which is the share of children who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition, and child stunting, which is the share of children who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition. These parameters use information from the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the United Nations, although all these international organisations draw from national data, which, in India’s case, includes the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS). There is always a time lag in such data, so the 2020 scores are based on data from 2015-19.
  • This results in a 100-point scale, with zero meaning no hunger at all. Countries scoring 9.9 and less are classified as having a low severity. A score between 10 and 19.9 is considered moderate, that from 20 to 34.9 is serious, and a score of 35 or more is alarming.


Performance of India 

  • In 2020, India falls in the ‘serious’ category on the Index, with a total score of 27.2. This is a definite improvement from the situation two decades ago, when it scored 38.9 and fell into the ‘alarming’ category. However, its scores are abysmal when compared to its peers in the BRICS countries. China and Brazil both scored under five, and are considered to have very low levels of hunger. South Africa is ranked 60 with a score of 13.5, indicating moderate levels of hunger.
  • In the serious category, India stands with some of the poorest African nations, as well as its own South Asian neighbours, all of whom have better scores except Afghanistan. India is tied at the 94th rank out of 107 countries, sharing the rank with Sudan.
  • In terms of overall undernourishment, 14% of India’s population does not get enough calories, an improvement from almost 20% in 2005-07. The child mortality rate is 3.7%, a significant drop from 9.2% in 2000. Many countries fare worse than India on these two parameters.
  • India’s poor score comes almost entirely from the child stunting and wasting parameters. Almost 35% of Indian children are stunted, and although this is much better than the 54.2% rate of 2000, it is still among the world’s worst. Also, 17.3% of Indian children under five are wasted, which is the highest prevalence of child wasting in the world. There is no change from two decades ago, when it was 17.1%. In fact, the situation improved to 15% in the 2010-14 data period, but worsened again by 2015-19.


Causes of high child stunting and wasting 

  • Poor state of maternal health, more than anything else is the root cause. Mothers are too young, too short, too thin and too undernourished themselves, before they get pregnant, during pregnancy, and then after giving birth, during breast-feeding.
  • Poor sanitation, leading to diarrhoea, is another major cause of child wasting and stunting. At the time of the last NFHS, almost 40% of households were still practising open defecation. Only 36% of households disposed of children’s stools in a safe manner. One in 10 children under the age of five suffer from diarrhoea.


How do different Indian States compare?

  • Almost one in three children in Jharkhand show acute undernutrition, with a 29% rate of wasting. Although this is the worst State by far, other large States such as Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka also have one in five children who are wasted.
  • Interestingly, other States that usually fare poorly on development indices, such as Bihar, Rajasthan and Odisha, actually do better than the national average, with 13-14% rates of wasting. Uttarakhand and Punjab, along with several north-eastern States, have levels of child wasting below 10%.
  • In terms of stunting, Bihar performs the worst, with 42% of children too short for their age. Other populous States like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh also have stunting rates just below 40%, and so does Gujarat. At the other end of the scale, Jammu and Kashmir has only 15% stunted children, while Tamil Nadu and Kerala are around the 20% mark.
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