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India’s hunger levels are ‘Serious’, says the GHI Report

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) report published by the Washington based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) suggests that 15.2 per cent of Indians are undernourished and 38.7 per cent of under-five children are stunted.

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But, practitioners believe that there are other sides of the story as well. According to Dr. S. Srinivasan, a practising paediatrician in New Delhi, “numbers usually are collated by a variety of country reports with data collected through non uniform methods. This means that the statistical analysis may blow up differences out of proportion. It is also questionable whether poverty alleviation results in betterment of child nutrition”.

Dr Srinivasan’s first assignment was in a village, SWRC Tilonia, in the semi arid Ajmer, far back in 1980. Speaking with the G’nY correspondent the doctor opined, “I might have found the maximum number of happy children among the poverty-stricken, undernourished uneducated people living in places boasting of least infrastructure. Our attempts at integrated rural development only highlighted the complex interaction of a multitude of factors, operant in issues of child nutrition”.

However, the GHI reportedly is designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally and by country and region. Calculated each year by IFPRI, the GHI highlights successes and failures in hunger reduction and provides insights into the drivers of hunger. By raising awareness and understanding of regional and country differences in hunger, the GHI aims to trigger actions to reduce hunger.

In this Report, ‘hunger’ refers to the index based on the four indicators (undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality). Taken together, the component indicators reflect deficiencies in calories as well as in micronutrients. Thus, the GHI report reflects both aspects of hunger i.e. undernutrition and malnutrition.

Undernutrition, the Report states, goes beyond calories and signifies deficiencies in energy, protein, or essential vitamins and minerals. It is the result of inadequate intake of food in terms of either quantity or quality, poor utilization of nutrients due to infections or other illnesses, or a combination of these factors.

Malnutrition refers more broadly to both undernutrition (problems of deficiencies) and overnutrition (problems of unbalanced diets, such as consuming too many calories in relation to requirements with or without low intake of micronutrient-rich foods).

As a practising pediatrician in Delhi’s middle class and poor districts, Dr. Srinivasan believes he has witnessed a gradual decline in poverty, decrease in family size, improvement in child nutrition, fall in nutritional deficiency disorders, improvement in immunisation coverage, fall in maternal and under- five mortality rates, better awareness, and, increase in learning among disabled and autistic children. He however claims that he does not see much change in family spending patterns, and sees a rise in accidents, cancers and vector borne epidemics. He however also significantly added that, “One could aim for an improvement in moral and ethical behaviour in all strata of society that will go a long way in curbing the incidence of HIV-AIDS, substance abuse and overexposure to electronic screen time among children”.

The Report reveals that overall, global hunger levels are down by about 29 per cent compared to 2000. On the severity scale, a GHI score of less than 10 means ‘low’ prevalence of hunger while a score of more than 50 implies an ‘extremely alarming’ situation.

India’s global hunger index or GHI score of 28.5 in 2016 in comparison to the 1992 score of 46.4 is still worse than the developing country average score of 21.3. While countries like Brazil and Argentina have a GHI score of less than 5 and ranked the best among developing nations, nations like Chad and Central African Republic fare the worst with a score of 44.3 and 46.1, respectively.

The share of under-5 children who are `wasted’ is about 15 per cent while the share of children who are `stunted’ is a staggering 39 per cent. This reflects widespread and chronic lack of balanced food. The under-5 mortality rate is 4.8 per cent in India, partially reflecting the inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.

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India continues to have serious levels of widespread hunger forcing it to be ranked a lowly 97 among 118 developing countries for which the Global Hunger Index (GHI) was calculated this year. India was ranked 83 in 2000 and 102 in 2008 with GHI scores of 38.2 and 36 respectively.

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Dr. Joe Mediath, Founder, Gram Vikas & Gobinda Ballava Dalai, Gram Vikas, working in the poverty stricken districts of Odisha, in conversation with G’nY correspondent said that, ‘While India struts around the world as a potential super power and as a highly industrialised nation, it has, not only in absolute numbers but in terms of percentage also, the largest number of people going to bed hungry. The ‘wasted’ and ‘stunted’ children is another story. Not only are these children ‘wasted’ or ‘stunted’ because of malnutrition, but also because of poor sanitation and bad quality of drinking water.’

All 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—including Goal 2, ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture—should be achieved by 2030. Yet this cannot be achieved without increased effort and mobilization of resources.

The report added that if hunger declines at the same rate as it did since 1992, India will still have ‘moderate’ to ‘alarming’ hunger scores by the year 2030, far short of the goal to end hunger in that year.

To read the full report: http://www.ifpri.org/publication/2016-global-hunger-index-getting-zero-hunger

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