Why Has India Slipped Below All Asian Countries Except Afghanistan On Global Hunger Index-2022

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For representation purposes only. Photo Credit: Down To Earth.

Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—India, one of the major foodgrain and milk product exporters, has surprisingly been ranked 107 out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index-2022 report that European NGOs  – Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe – released on Friday.

It is a significant cause of concern because it has slipped several places below the countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal, and many other countries it supplies foodgrain, milk powder, and other milk products. In 2022, India exported 1.8 million tonnes of wheat to several countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Israel, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, Thailand, UAE, Vietnam and Yemen.

 India exported more than 21.5 million tonnes of rice to 150 countries in 2021. And this is more than the total rice exports by the four biggest rice exports – Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, and the United States. According to figures available from the Government of India, 40 percent of the global rice export was from India alone in 2021.

It becomes surprising when one learns that the countries where India exports food are above India on Global Hunger Index. According to the GHI-2022 report, neighbouring Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar have been ranked 99, 64, 84, 81, and 781, respectively. On the other hand, the GHI-2022 report says that India is behind all Asian countries except Afghanistan.

The reason India’s GHI ranking goes down even in the poorer Asian countries is that calorie intake in India is less than the caloric value of food consumed in other countries. GHI scores are based on the values of four component indicators. They are undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality.

Undernourishment means the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake. Child stunting indicates the percentage of children under five years of age who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition, child wasting shows the share of children under five years of age who have low weight for their height, indicating acute undernutrition, and child mortality indicates the share of children who die before their fifth birthday, indicating the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.

The two NGOs have used data from international agencies, including UNICEF, World Bank, and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), for preparing their report. According to the report, a zero score is the best score indicating no hunger, and 100 is the worst. India has a score of 29.1, meaning India has a serious hunger level. According to the report, hunger in countries with a score between 35 to 49.5 is alarming and extremely alarming in countries with a score of 50 and above. Countries below ten score have been classified as low hunger countries, those with a score between 10 and 19.9 have been classified as moderate, and those between 20 and 34.9 have been placed in serious condition.

Speaking about the low position of India on the Global Hunger Index, activist Neeta Hardikar said that it was not due to unavailability of food but due to calorific deficiency in food consumed by the people, particularly among tribals, people in low-income groups and rural areas.

She said that the deficiency of protein and micronutrients in the food consumed by children affected their height and weight. In addition, the unavailability of health facilities also affected the children’s growth.

Hardikar, who represents ANANDI (Area Networking and Development Initiatives) working among the tribal population of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, said that while the government supplied wheat and rice at a fair price through the public distribution system(PDS), there was no arrangement for providing pulses and edible at a low price to poor people in tribal and rural areas. According to her, pulses and edible oil were the primary protein sources among poor people. She said that many communities did not consume eggs for cultural reasons, which further led to a deficiency in protein among the children, resulting in their low weight and stunted growth. Hardikar, who has been working on food security issues since 1995, said she had been demanding a universal supply of pulses and edible oil through PDS, but the government has not paid heed. Poor and tribals don’t have the cash to buy pulses and edible oil from the open market to meet their protein requirements. She said there was malnutrition even among slum dwellers in urban centres and their share of the total population in every town and city was very large. She said that that made the situation very serious in India. According to Hardikar, the decline in income due to unemployment during the Covid pandemic also led to malnutrition among the poor, thus bringing down India’s place on the GHI in 2022.

It is because of these reasons India accounts for the world’s most significant number of undernourished people. The food and Agriculture Report of 2018 said India had 196 million of the world’s 821 million undernourished people, accounting for 24 percent of the world’s hungry people.

India faces this situation despite the Government of India taking several initiatives to improve the situation. These initiatives include Eat Right India Movement by the Food and Safety Standards Authority of India, Poshan Abhiyan by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, Food Fortification, Mission Indradhanush, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme and Targeted Public Distribution System.

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