New Delhi: India continues to have serious levels of widespread hunger forcing it to be ranked a lowly 97 among 118 developing countries for which the Global Hunger Index (GHI) was calculated this year.
Countries worse than India include extremely poor African countries such as Niger, Chad, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone besides two of India’s neighbours: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Other neighbours Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and China are all ranked above India.
The GHI is calculated by taking into account four key parameters: shares of undernourished population, wasted and stunted children aged under 5, and infant mortality rate of the same age group.
Of the 131 countries studied, data was available for 118 countries. This year, for the first time, two measures of child hunger -wasting and stunting -have been used to give a more complete picture. Wasting refers to low weight in relation to a child’s height, reflecting acute undernutrition.Stunting refers to the deficiency in height in relation to age, reflecting chronic undernutrition.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) makes the annual calculations of GHI. Basing its readings on the most recent data, the 2016 GHI for India was derived from the fact that an estimated 15% population is undernourished -lacking in adequate food intake, both in quantity and quality .
The share of under-5 children who are `wasted’ is about 15% while the share of children who are `stunted’ is a staggering 39%. This reflects widespread and chronic lack of balanced food. The under-5 mortality rate is 4.8% in India, partially reflecting the fatal synergy of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.
Although India runs two of the world’s biggest children’s nutrition programmes, the ICDS for children under 6 years and the mid-day meal programme for school going kids up to the age of 14, malnutrition continues to haunt India.
Endemic poverty, unemployment, lack of sanitation and safe drinking water, and lack of effective healthcare are main factors for the sorry state. Compared with previous years, marked improvement has taken place in child stunting and under-5 mortality rates but the proportion of undernourished people has declined only marginally from 17% in 2000 to the current 15%. The share of wasted children has inched down similarly.
India was ranked 83 in 2000 and 102 in 2008 with GHI scores of 38.2 and 36 respectively. This implies that, while hunger levels in India have diminished somewhat, the improvement has been outstripped by several other countries. Hence India’s ranking is worse today than it was 15 years ago. In fact, Bangladesh was ranked 84 with a score of 38.5 in 2000, just below India. But in 2016, it has improved beyond India with a GHI score of 27.1 and a rank of 90 to India’s 97.
Overall, global hunger levels are down by about 29% compared to 2000.Twenty countries, including Rwanda, Cambodia, and Myanmar, have reduced their GHI scores by over 50% each since 2000. And, for the second year in a row, no developing country for which data was available featured in the “extremely alarming” category.