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Mainstream, VOL LV No 47 New Delhi November 11, 2017

Mapping India in Global Hunger Index 2017

Saturday 11 November 2017

by Siba Sankar Sahu

‘An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.’ —Albert Einstein

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally and by country and region. Calculated each year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), it was released on October 9, 2017. It reflects India’s unplumbed status on poverty, hunger and malnutrition. India’s rank is 100th out of 119 countries in the world; it slipped from the 55th rank in 2014 to 100th in the Global Hunger Index 2017.

Our Prime Minister declared that the bullet train project signifies India’s progress where thousands of villages in the country are still unconnected and lack electricity. The bullet train will go from “my Ahmedabad to our Mumbai”, the Prime Minister said after the inauguration of the bullet train project on August 15, 2022. The cost of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway (HSR) project is estimated to be Rs 1.1 lakh crores (17 billion dollars). The expenditure on health and education are Rs 48,852 and Rs 79,685 crores respectively. The cost of the bullet train project is near about the whole Budget of two very important sectors of the economy. There has been a slip in India’s rank with respect to the GHI 2014 as well as GHI 2008 that were at 55 and 66 (out of 120 countries) respectively. This slip in India’s ranking corresponds to the GHI scores of 23.7, 17.8, 28.5 and 31.4 in 2008, 2014, 2016 and 2017 respectively. Does it imply that the incidence of hunger in India that went down from 2008 to 2014 has further risen again between 2014 and 2017? It might not necessarily be so, although it does indicate the “stickiness” of certain types or forms of malnutrition in the country. It follows from the reasoning above that the depth of hunger and malnutrition over time has grown in India; still we need a bullet train.

The 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI) shows the long-term progress in reducing hunger in the world. The advances have been uneven, however, with millions of people still experi-encing chronic hunger and many places suffering from acute food crises and even famine. According to the 2017 GHI scores, the level of hunger in the world has decreased by 27 per cent from the 2000 level. Of the 119 countries assessed in this year’s report, one falls in the extremely alarming range on the GHI Severity Scale; seven fall in the alarming range; 44 in the serious range; and 24 in the moderate range. Only 43 countries have scores in the low range. In addition, nine of the 13 countries that lack sufficient data for calculating the 2017 GHI score—including Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria—raise significant concern, and in fact may have some of the highest levels of hunger.

The GHI score of India in 2016 was 28.5 but is 31.4 in 2017 (a higher score shows poor performance). This score, GHI-2017 says, “is at the high-end of the serious category”. The Index ranks countries on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best score (no hunger) and 100 being the worst, although neither of these extremes is reached in practice. Values less than 10.0 reflect low hunger, values from 10.0 to 19.9 reflect moderate hunger, values from 20.0 to 34.9 indicate serious hunger, values from 35.0 to 49.9 reflect alarming hunger, and values of 50.0 or more reflect extremely alarming hunger levels. The GHI combines four component indicators: the proportion of the undernourished as a percentage of the population; (14.5 per cent in India), the proportion of children under the age of five suffering from wasting (21 per cent in India), proportion of children under the age of five suffering from stunting (38.4 per cent in India) and mortality rate of children under the age of five 4.8 per cent in India. The four parameters are (i) Undernourished population (1/3rd weight), (ii) Child wasting (1/6th weight), (iii) Child stunting (1/6th weight) and (iii) child mortality below 05 (1/3rd weight). In this case stunting means deficiency in height in relation to age and wasting means the low weight in relations to child’s height reflects chronic under- nutrition.

India has a “serious” hunger problem and ranks the third highest in all of Asia; only Pakistan and Afghanistan are ranked worse. At 31.4 score in GHI, India is at the high end of the ‘serious’ category, and is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of worst performing region on the GHI this year, followed closely by Africa South of the Sahara. The country’s serious hunger level is driven by high child malnutrition and underlines the need for stronger commitment to the social sector, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said in its report. Growth in income, although an essential driver of improved nutritional outcomes, has proved to be insufficient in ensuring a decline in hunger and malnourish-ment. (FAO, 2012) Widespread poverty and inequality manifests itself in insufficient food intake and poor diet quality which results in hunger, malnutrition and mortality. Malnu-trition is considered as the single largest threat to the state of public health in the world.

As per the report, India ranks below many of its neighbouring countries such as China (29th rank), Nepal (72), Myanmar (77), Sri Lanka (84) and Bangladesh (88). It is ahead of Pakistan (106) and Afghanistan (107). The IFPRI pointed out that more than one-fifth of Indian children under five weigh too little for their height and over a third are too short for their age.

In the same world where around 800 million people go hungry and two billion suffer from some form of malnutrition, more than a third of the adult population is obese and a third of all food produced is lost or wasted. (FAO 2011) So while the problems in the world food system are vast, they are also unevenly spread. Typically, groups with the least social, economic, or political power suffer hunger or malnu-trition—whether they are barely eking out a living in remote rural areas of poor countries or residing in marginalised communities in the big cities of wealthy states. This uneven distribution of hunger and malnutrition in all its forms is rooted in inequalities of social, political, and economic power.

Socioeconomic class and geography intersect with, and often surpass, gender as an axis of inequality. As a recent report notes, “Power imbalances, often stemming from economic inequalities, are key factors in the way food systems operate”. (IPES 2015) Families’ income, social status, and location often appear to play a greater role in determining hunger. Hunger and inequality are inextricably linked. By committing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the international community promised to eradicate hunger and reduce inequality by 2030. Yet the world is still not on track to reach this target. Inequality takes many forms, and understanding how it leads to or exacerbates hunger is not always straightforward.. Most closely tied to hunger, perhaps, is poverty, the clearest manifestation of societal inequality. Three quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas, where hunger is typically higher. (International Food Policy Research Institute 2017)

Article 47 of the Constitution, inter alia, provides that the state shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which India is a signatory, also cast responsibilities on all state parties to recognise the right of everyone to adequate food. The Food Security Bill recognises the right to food which is the aim to a hunger-free nation. The Food security is not just a matter of the availability of food, but even more of the access of households and individuals to sufficient nutritious food. Amartya Sen’s Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation  brought forward a new understanding of the problem of hunger or food security. Rather than just the ‘availability’ of food, Sen emphasised ‘access’ to food through what he called ‘entitlements’—a combination of what one can produce, exchange in the market plus state or other socially provided supplies

India today is home to the third largest number of dollar billionaires in the world but, at the same time, harbours within its borders a third of the world’s poor and hungry. From two resident billionaires with an income of $ 3.2 billion in the mid-1990s their numbers grew to 46 and combined wealth to $ 176 billion in 2012, and their share in GDP rose from one to 10 per cent. By contrast, if judged by the median developing country poverty line of two dollars a day on purchasing power parity, more than 80 per cent rural and just below 70 per cent urban inhabitants in India continue to be poor. (Oxfam report)

 The Supreme Court has already established very detailed individual entitlements that are legally binding on the government. These include universal mid-day meals to every child studying in a government-run or aided primary school, nutrition, health and preschool education services through the Integrated Child Development Services for every child under the age of six, subsidised grain to households living below the poverty line and monthly pensions for old people living below the poverty line. India’s worst rank in the hunger index puts a question-mark on the above programmes. The highest spatially disadvantaged villages are found in the Kalahandi district in Asia. Would the bullet train solve the problems of connectivity, hunger and malnutrition problems in hundreds of Kalahandis in India? It’s high time to think whether we have to accept the bullet train or control hunger, malnutrition and child mortality. The governments must actively include in the policy-making process under-represented groups, such as small-scale farmers and disadvantaged groups, to reduce poverty and hunger.

The author is a Ph.D. Research Scholar, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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