Sprawling in the hunger battle

By Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

The present BJP-led government, which is infatuated with publicity blitzkrieg and headline management never accepts its failure nor any report that mirrors its weakness. By contrast, it never leaves any stone unturned to derive political mileage from any genuine or any fabricated, manipulated report, or news that exaggerates its performance. For any, success, it is first to take credit but for any failure, it is quick to attribute the same to predecessors or acts of God or natural calamity or national/international situations.

It will compare its poor performance with the worse performance of any of its predecessors or any other country to escape criticism and camouflage failures. The problem is that when a government does not admit its weakness or failures, then it cannot take appropriate measures to tackle problems plaguing the economy. As a result of this, problems are assuming gargantuan shapes leading to impoverishment and suffering of the masses.

The grim fact is that the government which has not accepted last year’s hunger index, world Press freedom report, global democracy report, etc has again not accepted the global hunger index report -2022 which ranks India abysmally and repudiates the “Acche Din”, “Amrit Kaal” as publicised by the government.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool for comprehensively measuring and tracking hunger at global, regional, and national levels. The global hunger index is released every year prepared jointly by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organisation Welt Hunger Hilfe, and is widely accepted throughout the world.

The GHI score is calculated on four indicators — undernourishment; child wasting (the share of children under the age of five who are wasted i.e who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition); child stunting (children under the age of five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition) and child mortality (the mortality rate of children under the age of five).

The GHI scores on a 100-point GHI Severity Scale, where 0 is the best score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. In practice, neither of these extremes is reached. Each country’s GHI score is classified by severity, from low to extremely alarming. The severity of hunger associated with the range of possible GHI scores is as follows: low (9.9), moderate (10.0-19.9), serious (20.0-34.9), alarming (3.0-49.9), extremely alarming ≥50.

To enable statistically consistent tracking of a country’s performance over time, each report includes GHI scores and indicator data for three specified reference years. As per the data, there are 44 countries that currently have “serious” or “alarming” hunger levels. With a score of 29.1, India has a level of hunger that is serious. India’s GHI score had decreased from 38.8 points—considered alarming in 2000 to 28.2 in 2014 GHI showing improvement. Since 2014 when BJP rode to power,  India has shown a slight worsening, with its GHI score increasing to 29.1 in 2022 GHI.

This is much high compared to the global average score of 18.2. Globally, the progress against hunger has largely stagnated in recent years, with a global score of 18.2 in 2022 as compared to 19.1 in 2014, there is only a slight improvement. However, the 2022 GHI score is still considered “moderate”. However, India’s 2022 GHI score “can be directly compared” with its GHI scores for 2000, 2007, and 2014, the 2022 report said. It is true that India made some improvements between 2000 to 2014. But overall, other countries have improved more than India. As a result of which India is abysmally placed.

Causes for stagnation in this progress in the world are: Conflicts among countries, Climate change, The economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia-Ukraine war, which has increased global food, fuel, and fertiliser prices and is expected to “worsen hunger in 2023 and beyond.

In the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2022, India ranks 107th out of 121 countries. What is reprehensible is that India also ranks below Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (81), Bangladesh (84), and Pakistan (99). Afghanistan (109) is the only country in South Asia that performs worse than India on the index. China is among the countries collectively ranked between 1 and 17 having a score of less than five. In 2021, India ranked 101 out of 116 countries while in 2020 the country was placed in 94th position. In 2014, India was ranked 55. It means since 2014 India’s position has declined by 52 slots.

Top performers in GHI 2022 are Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chile, China and Croatia are the top five countries in GHI 2022, whereas the worst performers in GHI 2022 are Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, the Central African Republic and Yemen are the countries ranked at the bottom of the index.

India once again has the dubious distinction of being home to the largest number of hungry people in the world. Out of 4 important indicators of the Hunger index, the Proportion of Undernourished (PoU) population or prevalence of undernourishment, which is a measure of the proportion of the population facing chronic deficiency of dietary energy intake, has also risen in the country from 14.6 percent in 2018-2020 to 16.3 percent in 2019-2021. This translates into 22.43 crore people in India being considered undernourished out of the total 82.8 crore people undernourished globally.

What is reprehensible is that instead of addressing the proximate causes of problems, the Centre rejected the ranking and said that the index suffers from serious methodological issues and is an “erroneous measure of hunger”. The government claimed the methodology used to calculate the Global Hunger Index is unscientific. It also further stated that India’s poor ranking is part of a consistent effort to taint the country’s image as “a nation that does not fulfil the food security and nutritional requirements of its population”. The government had last year slammed the report — calling it “shocking” and “devoid of ground reality”– after India fell below the 100th rank.

The Women and Child Development Ministry alleges that estimates based on FIES (Food Insecurity Experience Scale) survey module data conducted through the Gallop world Poll on a very small sample size of 3000 based on eight questions regarding people’s access to adequate food. But the Women and Child Development Ministry, in a statement, said the matter was taken up with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) not to use such data.

The government argues that the per capita dietary energy supply in India, as estimated by FAO from the Food Balance Sheets, has been increasing year-on-year owing to enhanced production of major agricultural commodities in the country over the years and there is absolutely no reason why the country’s undernourishment levels should increase. In reality, the Gallup opinion poll is not used by GHI, instead, undernourishment is measured using data officially presented by India and other member countries to the UN.

The data on undernourishment mentioned in the Hunger Index is the same as the data of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) which is an annual flagship report jointly prepared by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO to inform on progress towards ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and to provide in-depth analysis on key challenges for achieving this goal in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The above report also reveals that about 56 crore people, 40.6 per cent of the population, in India suffered from moderate or severe food insecurity in 2019-21. The proportion of the population that is severely food insecure in the country has risen from 20.3 per cent in 2018-20 to 22.3 per cent in 2019-21. The corresponding proportion for the world was about 10.7 per cent in 2019-21. India alone accounts for 37 percent of the world’s total severely food-insecure population.

The ministry further said three out of the four indicators used for the calculation of the index are related to the health of children and cannot be representative of the entire population. In reality, the global hunger Index report has given more or less the same figure as found in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5 report of India.

According to the report, India has seen improvement in two parameters of child stunting and child mortality. India improved in child stunting from 38.7 percent to 35.5 percent between 2014 and 2022 and child mortality from 4.6 percent to 3.3 percent. India’s child wasting rate at 19.3 percent, is worse than in 2014 (15.1 percent) and even 2000 (17.15 percent) and is the highest for any country in the world.

As per the survey, stunting indicating chronic malnutrition is higher among children in rural areas (37 percent) than in urban areas (30 percent) in 2019-21. Stunting or chronic malnutrition (low height with respect to age) has increased in 11 of the 17 states. Children who are stunted or wasted are more vulnerable to diseases and illness.

To utter surprise, when the government is not accepting data on the hunger index, its own data (NFHS) 5 report appears to be the same as those of (NFHS) 5 reports, According to the (NFHS) 5 reports, the stunting rate indicating chronic malnutrition is 32 percent, the wasting rate is 19 percent and underweight is 32 percent and under-five mortality rate is 4.2 percent at all Indian levels.

In reality, the Indian government fails to differentiate between hunger and undernutrition or undernourishment. The above index is on undernutrition and undernourishment but not on hunger, though the name is given as the hunger index. Whether hunger or undernutrition or undernourishment, what one says, it is true that India is in an abysmal position. This should be addressed. The following 18 parameters are considered for giving ranking to the countries.

According to the UN’s Hunger Report, hunger is the term used to define periods when populations are experiencing severe food insecurity—meaning that they go for entire days without eating due to lack of money, lack of access to food, or other resources. Hunger is the distress associated with a lack of food.

The threshold for food deprivation, or undernourishment, is fewer than 1,800 calories per day. When individuals are undernourished, they can no longer maintain natural bodily functions, such as growth, resisting infections and recovery from disease, learning and physical work, and pregnancy and lactation in women.

Undernutrition is one aspect of malnutrition. Malnutrition refers more broadly to both undernutrition and overnutrition (problems with unbalanced diets). Malnutrition refers to deficiencies, excesses, or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients. The term malnutrition covers 2 broad groups of conditions. One is “undernutrition”—which includes stunting (low height for age), wasting (low weight for height), underweight (low weight for age), and micronutrient deficiencies or insufficiencies (a lack of important vitamins and minerals).

Overnutrition as part of malnutrition is reflected through overweight, obesity, and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer). But Undernutrition goes beyond calories to signify deficiencies in energy, protein, and/or essential vitamins and minerals. Undernutrition makes children in particular much more vulnerable to disease and death.

It is not only in the global hunger Index but also India is placed appallingly placed in the Global Food Security Index. Food security relates to food availability, access, and utilization. When a person always has adequate availability and access to enough safe and nutritious food to maintain an active and healthy life, they are considered food secure.

The Global Food Security Index consists of 15 parameters from 113 countries. It measures food security across most countries of the world. It was first published in 2012, and is managed and updated annually by The Economist’s intelligence unit.

Those 15 parameters are Nutritional standards, Urban absorption capacity, Food consumption as a share of household expenditure, Food loss, Protein quality, Agricultural import tariffs, Diet diversification, Agricultural infrastructure, Volatility of agricultural production, Proportion of population under the global poverty line, Gross domestic product per capita (US$ PPP), Presence of food safety net programs, Access to financing for farmers, Public expenditure on agricultural R&D, Corruption, Political stability risk, Sufficiency of supply, Food safety.

India is placed in 68th position with Algeria out of 113 countries. It means, out of 113 countries India is behind 67 countries as far as food security is concerned. Finland, Ireland, Norway, France, and the Netherlands are placed in the top five positions respectively. Japan 6, UK 9, US 13, Germany 19, China 25, and Russia 43 are much ahead of India. Neighbouring countries like Nepal 74, Sri Lanka 79, Bangladesh 80, and Pakistan 84 are marginally behind India.

The government argues that it is doing its job by providing free grain (five kilos of rice or wheat and one kilo of dal) to 60 percent of the population, or over 80 crore people under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY). Why Centre extended Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana (PMGKAY) for another three months (October 2022-December 2022). The answer can only be that they are hungry, and need it. That is why are so many Indians queueing up each month for free rations. This scheme is only meant to curb starvation.

Further, people’s purchasing power should be enhanced in such a way that they can afford to buy food grains from the market. The government is financing this scheme by not raising resources by taxing rich/corporates but by imposing GST on food items and higher excise taxes on petroleum products. What government gives to the poor through this scheme, takes out more through indirect taxes which ultimately impoverishes poor and hungry people.

Further, the government should not forget that as per the World Bank, nearly 5.6 crore Indians have been pushed into extreme poverty during the Covid pandemic. According to UNDP’s Multidimensional index, 16.4 percent in 2019/21 in India are multidimensionally poor which translates into the largest number of poor people at 22.8 crores, the same as what the hunger index shows. According to Hunger Index, 22.43 crore people in India are considered undernourished out of the total 82.8 crore people undernourished globally.

While the government is rejecting this report should contemplate that not in this index only, in almost all indexes such as human development, global happiness index, and UN sustainable development Index India is abysmally placed. India is behind 141 countries in terms of per capita income






The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

Also Read

Comments are closed.