India’s rank in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) has fallen from 94 out of 107 countries in 2020 to 101 out of 116 in 2021, a steep fall for a crucial indicator of social welfare. Even the 94th rank was a mark of ignominy and should have caused concern in government, but the further slide in position means that the country has joined the ranks of the poorest 15 countries, such as Yemen and Somalia. In South Asia, only war-wracked Afghanistan has a worse ranking than India. The peer-reviewed report, prepared by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organisation Welthungerhilfe (WHH) calculates the GHI score on four indicators -- undernourishment, child wasting (low weight for height), child stunting (low height for age) and child mortality.
India has the highest child wasting rate among all countries. It increased from 17.1% in 1998-2002 to 17.3% in 2016-2020. There were some improvements in the other three categories. The country’s overall GHI score of 27.5 puts it in the “serious’’ category, and the hunger situation is “alarming.’’ Childhood malnourishment has a serious impact on health in later years. Child and maternal malnutrition contribute to disease burden. GHI reports are annual reminders of failures in the country’s development programmes and social welfare schemes such as the Poshan Abhiyan scheme. The irony of the country with the world’s fifth-largest economy and wishing to be recognised as a superpower having the largest poor, undernourished and hungry population should not be lost on anyone. This, when India is one of the top producers of food in the world.
The government’s responses to the report have been entirely negative. As usual, it sees a conspiracy against India and has questioned the methodology of the index and alleged that India’s rank has been deliberately lowered. It also said the ranking was based on an opinion poll. WHH has refuted the criticism and explained the data source and methodology used to arrive at the indicator. The government’s denial of a problem that clearly worsened during the pandemic and lockdowns is unhelpful. Worse, it is the government that has suppressed unfavourable information and fabricated figures in many areas in the past. Even the National Family Health Survey (2019-20) has shown that the percentage of stunted, wasted and underweight children has increased or remained the same in most states. Equity in the distribution of food, nutrition and care of young mothers and children is a serious issue. The country has to face the truth and act on them, instead of seeing a conspiracy behind every unflattering report and index.
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