Understanding India’s Global Hunger Index: Is India’s Ranking Truly Accurate?
The recently released Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2023 has sparked significant debate, particularly regarding India’s position at 111th place. India’s government has questioned the validity of this ranking, citing methodological concerns. To address these concerns, the organizations responsible for the GHI, Welthungerhilfe (WHH) and Concern Worldwide, have issued Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for India, aiming to shed light on their rankings.
The GHI serves as a vital tool for assessing hunger in various countries, relying on four key indicators: undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality. However, certain doubts have been raised about the GHI’s accuracy.
Firstly, a core component of the GHI is the undernourishment data, which relies on data from the Gallup World Poll with a limited sample size of 3,000 respondents. Additionally, household consumption surveys have not been conducted since 2011. This raises concerns about whether the data accurately represents India’s complex food situation. India has made significant progress in increasing per capita food availability, which has doubled since 1950. Furthermore, India’s food exports have grown considerably, which should ideally result in a lower GHI score.
Secondly, the GHI report highlights India’s high child wasting and stunting rates. These statistics are derived from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted from 2019 to 2021. However, real-time data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development’s Poshan Tracker, as of April 2023, reports a considerably lower wasting rate of 7.1%. Such a substantial disparity raises questions about the credibility of NFHS data.
Thirdly, the GHI relies on data from the WHO Multicentre Growth Reference Study (MGRS), conducted from 1997 to 2003, to assess stunting and wasting. This study primarily included affluent children from Southern India who are, on average, taller than children from other regions. Using this data may result in a higher stunting score than what might be accurate for India.
It is vital to understand that height and weight are influenced by various factors, including genetics, nutrition, and the environment. Genetics are a significant determinant, accounting for 80% of height and weight, with nutrition and the environment contributing the remaining 20%. This variability can be observed not only between countries but also within India itself.
Additionally, India’s under-5 mortality rate stands at 3.1%. While there is room for improvement, there is limited evidence to suggest that child mortality is solely the result of hunger. Diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections are the primary causes of under-5 fatalities in India, overshadowing malnutrition.
Given these concerns, a reevaluation suggests that India’s overall GHI score should be 9.1, positioning it at the 48th rank in the Global Hunger Index. This revised score provides a more accurate reflection of India’s food security situation, casting doubts on the precision and relevance of GHI metrics in portraying India’s actual status.
India, a nation known for its agricultural strength and food surplus, is home to over 1.4 billion people. The nation has established strong safety net initiatives, like the Public Distribution System, which provides free rations to over 880 million individuals. Additionally, programs such as the Integrated Child Services Program and PM Poshan have been introduced to improve nutrition among young children, both in preschool and during their school years. These efforts, in conjunction with India’s economic growth, offer a more optimistic view of the country’s food security situation than the GHI ranking suggests.
India has demonstrated significant political commitment and government action to improve its food and nutrition landscape. However, the use of outdated and inaccurate data can hinder these efforts. To address this, the organizations responsible for the GHI need to reevaluate their methods, and the Indian government should provide real-time data while collaborating closely with international organizations like the FAO and WHO.
While there may be no ill intent, evidently there are methodological issues and misinterpretations of the underlying data. It is essential to acknowledge India’s progress while addressing pockets of hunger and malnutrition comprehensively.