Pooja Chaudhuri Chaudhuri
The only fiction I enjoy is in books and movies.
India ranks 100 among 119 countries in the 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI), a fall of 3 places from last year’s rank. The report released on Thursday, October 12, places the country in the serious category.
The 2017 Global Hunger Index, published by Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) tracks the state of hunger worldwide, spotlighting those places where action to address hunger is most urgently needed.
The 2017 GHI has assessed 119 countries, of which, one (Central African Republic) falls in the extremely alarming range on the GHI Severity Scale; 7 fall in the alarming range; 44 in the serious range (including India); and 24 in the moderate range. Only 43 countries have scored in the low range.
India has scored 31.4 this year with its 100 worldwide ranking (shared by Djibouti and Rwanda); this is a decrease in the last more than two decades, but an increase from 2016’s score of 28.5 (Rank 97).
India’s GHI score in 1992 was 46.2.
[Note: An increase in the GHI indicates a worsening of a country’s hunger situation. A decrease in the GHI indicates an improvement in a country’s hunger situation.]
India is at the high end of the serious category. According to 2015–2016 survey data, more than a fifth (21%) of children in India suffer from wasting (acute malnutrition), which, has hardly improved in the last 25 years.
However, the GHI report says that the country has made progress in other areas – its child stunting rate, while still relatively high at 38.4% has decreased, down from 61.9% in 1992. Two national programs have had “massive scale up” in recent times to address nutrition—the Integrated Child Development Services and the National Health Mission—but these have yet to achieve adequate coverage.
The report adds that given India’s population (3/4th of South Asia’s population), the situation in the country strongly influences South Asia’s regional score.
Out of the eight South-Asian nations (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), only Afghanistan (Rank 107) and Pakistan (Rank 106) have fared lower than India; data for Bhutan was inadequate.
Even among the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), India comes last. South Africa is almost 50 places above India, with its 55 rank. North Korea, which is believed to be in extensive poverty has also fared better than the country with a ranking of 93.
The data underlying the calculation of the GHI shows the poor state of India – proportion of undernourished in the population is 14.5%; prevalence of wasting in children under 5 years of age is 21%; prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age is 38.4%; and the under-5 mortality rate is 4.8%.
While these numbers, apart from wasting in children, has improved, the progress has been slow in the past 25 years and a lot still remains to be achieved.
The GHI comes six months after the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16 which revealed that the infant mortality rate of Uttar Pradesh is worse than the strife-torn African nations and slightly better than Afghanistan. India’s comprehensive infant deaths per thousand births is 41.
At the regional level, South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara have the highest 2017 GHI scores—30.9 and 29.4, respectively, indicating serious levels of hunger.
At the country level, seven countries suffer from alarming levels of hunger, and one country, the Central African Republic (CAR), suffers from a level that is extremely alarming. Seven of these eight countries are in Africa south of the Sahara: CAR, Chad, Liberia, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Zambia. The exception is Yemen, located at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, says the report.
The developing nations that have fared the best GHI score of less than five are Chile, Cuba and Turkey. Most of the countries that are collectively ranked 1 to 14 are in Europe, with the exception of Kuwait and Turkey in the Middle East and Uruguay in South America.
Since 2000, global GHI scores have improved by 27%, yet one in nine people still go hungry around the world, as per the report.
GHI used four indicators to analyse the nature of hunger – undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality – all of which are trickle-down effects of poverty.
According to the World Bank’s 2016 data, 1 in every 5 Indians is poor, and the 7 poorest states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – house 62% of the country’s poor. Unemployment in these regions is high, hence, the lack of funds to sustain life. While in our urban bubbles, we hardly realise the plight of more than half of our country’s population.
Food security in India is clearly alarming. Defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a “situation when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”, India’s 2017 GHI ranking points at a situation fraught with despair.
The country is one of the largest grain producers in the world, despite which, more than 20% of the 1.3 population goes to bed hungry and farmers across the nation are protesting against their growing debt and rising suicide rate.
For every Indian to be able to feed themselves, food needs to be available, accessible and affordable. Availability suffers due to corruption and bureaucracy, while accessibility and affordability are hampered due to the existing inequality.
India also struggles to protect itself from natural disasters that continue to burden its food security. Precautionary measures are inept; take the example of floods that happen across the country every year, eroding cultivable land and destroying crops.
In 2013, the Indian Parliament signed the National Food Security Act or the Right to Food Act, which, includes the midday meal scheme, Integrated Child Development Services scheme and the Public Distribution System. The gross incompetence to properly implement these schemes are not unknown – children have lost lives due to the consumption of unhygienic midday meals, their ration is sometimes lost in transit and public distribution systems are rigged.
Presently, India has pitched for a permanent solution to its food security issue. Commerce and Industry Minister, Suresh Prabhu, at an informal gathering at the World Trade Organisation, said on October 12 that this is of “tremendous importance” to the country.
As mandated in the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2, Prabhu expressed his determination to end world hunger by 2030, when we have dropped three places in the Global Hunger Index in one year.
India has also been working closely with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to address the issues of the poorer communities and gain technical assistance. However, any change will only see the light of the day when the bureaucracy is uncorrupted and citizens’ basic needs are secured. We cannot expect the country to progress when children, the future of our nation, are dying of hunger.
To read the full 2017 Global Hunger Index report, click here.
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