The sustainable development agenda of removing poverty and hunger might seem like a dream to India despite being the world’s fastest developing economy. The recent Global Hunger Index 2018 (GHI) reveals that tackling hunger and undernutrition is a difficult task for the Modi Government. India stood 103rd on the Global Hunger Index along with Nigeria and has been categorised as a country with ‘serious’ levels of hunger.
The 13th edition of Global Hunger Index 2018 released by Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide stated that although there has been a significant decline in the proportion of the undernourished population from 18.2% in 2000 to 14.8% in 2018, India still has GHI of 31.1 making the country fall in the ‘serious’ category. The best-performing countries have a GHI score as low as 5 (Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia etc).
The report uses four parameters to calculate the index – mainly proportion of undernourished in the population, prevalence of wasting in children under five years, the prevalence of stunting in children under five years and the mortality rate under five years of age. Out of the four parameters, three are dedicated to children below the age of five years. And in all this, India performed poorly with a GHI score of 30.5.
Currently, the scores for three out of the four parameters have shown a declining trend. In contrast, a rising trend can be witnessed in the prevalence of wasting in children under five years. The proportion of undernourished in population was dropped to 14.8% from 18.2% in 2000 whereas the prevalence of wasting in children under five years was recorded at 21% (2.9% more since 2000). The prevalence of stunting in children under five years and under-five year mortality were 38.4% and 4.3% respectively.
Of the 119 countries surveyed, India ranks at a dismal 103 with GHI score being 31.1. There is a slight improvement from 2010’s score of 32.2. To give a context on how bad the situation is for India, it may be noted that the best-performing nations have a score of less than 5.
Despite a 0.3 point improvement from 2017, many neighbouring countries like China (25th), Sri Lanka (67th), Myanmar (68th), Nepal (72nd) and Bangladesh (86th) stood ahead of India. Although, the country has done far better than Pakistan which stood at 106th position, coming in at 103 does not look good.
While it can be supposed that India’s rank fell because the other countries fared better, the GHI report stated that it is not possible to derive at an accurate conclusion as there are many factors which determine GHI scores.
The Global Hunger Index report released on October 11 is the thirteenth edition. Welthungerlife and Concern Worldwide has been issuing reports on hunger levels in the world since 2006. The main area of focus for this year’s report has been “Forced Migration and Hunger”.
GHI prepares the ranking on the basis of four indicators; undernourishment is the first indicator, the other three indicators use data for children below the age of five that is child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. The South Asian region has the worst GHI score for this year, which stands at 30.5. It is closely followed by Africa South of the Sahara at 29.4%.
It may be noted that South Asia’s child wasting rate has been termed to be critical. Child wasting refers to children having an extremely low weight for their height, which points to acute under-nutrition. India has the highest level of child wasting at 21%. As reported by many leading newspapers – India performs better than only war-torn Sudan in this aspect. Reportedly, this was worse than the previous years. It was 17.1% in 2000, which has now increased to 21% in 18 years.
A silver lining may be the fact that in terms of other parameters, India’s situation seems to have improved. The percentage of undernourished has dropped from 18.2% in 2000 to 14.8% in 2018. The child stunting (low height for age) has dropped from 54.2% in 2000 to 38.4% in 2018. The child mortality has reduced from 9.2% to 4.3% for the same period.
India is home to over 53.3 million stunted, 49.6 million underweight and 29.2 million wasted (low weight for height) children under five. As per the National Family Health Survey-2016, the proportion of stunted (low height for age) children under five is significantly higher (38.4%) than global (22.9%) averages. The underweight (low weight for age) children rate (35.7%) is a lot higher than the global average (13.5%) too. It is a country that fares poorly on many nutrition indicators. There are 19.8 million children in India, under the age of 6, who are undernourished.
As there are multiplicity of factors that ensure that every single human being receives sufficient nutrition, similarly, there are manifold variables that contribute to the occurrence of malnutrition in India. (See above Fig)
Failures to invest in agriculture, supporting small farms, to name a few are some of the causes which have stunted the smooth sail of India, a fast-growing economy in the world. The rate of malnutrition is worse in India. Failure of food schemes. A disparity between the real execution of schemes for the greater good of citizen.
Providing healthy and nutritious food to its citizens is a liability of any government. Successful execution of free Food scheme pertaining to new mothers and pregnant women would be a beneficiary step towards the same. It should be mandatory to not waste food and offenders must be fined. Innumerable schemes have been launched by the Central as well as State governments in India but the reality is a mess. It takes year from passing a law to its execution. Food Security bills have been promised but sadly their progress is very slow. Food is a luxury to people who cannot afford it. It is advisable to not waste food. Be humanitarian and help those in need.
India too can lower the under-nourishment levels in the country by ensuring better access to nutritious food to the poor. It also need reducing post-harvest wastages of fruits and vegetables and making food security programmes more comprehensive. India’s post-harvest waste of vegetables and fruits is estimated at 25 per cent and exports at five per cent.
As result, although the gross per capita availability of fruits is estimated to be about 170 grams per day and vegetables at 385 grams per day, the net per capita availability is far lower — 120 grams of fruits and 270 grams of vegetables per day. Pulses intake, estimated at 47 grams per day currently, is lower than the intake prior to the Green Revolution.
Availability of milk, a rich source of nutrition, has risen over the years and India is currently the largest producer of milk in the world. Production of eggs, another rich source of proteins, has also climbed and India is now the world’s third largest producer.
An inclusive and holistic approach, including:-Controlling/regulating food price, Strengthening the public distribution system (PDS) and Income support policies for making food cheaper are important steps.
The ICDS was a high impact nutrition intervention, but its universal availability and quality are questionable due to poor functioning. The government must broaden the ICDS programme by ensuring diversity in food items in worst-hit districts. But sustained budgetary commitment towards nutrition components is not sharply visible. The launch of the National Nutrition Mission as a strategy to fight maternal and child malnutrition is a welcome step towards achieving the targets of underweight and stunted children under five years from 35.7% to 20.7% and from 38.4% to 25% respectively by 2022.