If you're not living under a rock, you must have heard of India’s dismal performance on the Global Hunger Index. Before talking about India's rank, it is an absolute must to understand what the Global Hunger Index (henceforth GHI) entails and what it does not.
The GHI combines four indicators:
Let us also note that the GHI is peer-reviewed by external experts and that the methodology has long been established and tested. The international community- including India - has agreed upon the SDGs (sustainable development goals) and the GHI uses indicators that are part of the indicators which measure progress towards the SDGs.
India ranked in the worst 16 countries this year – 101 out of 116 countries. Last year, the picture was the same – we ranked 94 out of 107 countries - behind Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Our GHI score has gone up very slightly since last year, from 27.2 to 27.5.
Before we jump to the government’s response to the GHI data, let us look at other relevant data from our own country.
The National Statistical Office (NSO) data from 2017-18 which suggested that consumption expenditure had fallen for the first time in 4 decades from Rs 1,501 per month in 2011-12 to Rs 1,446 per month in 2017-18.
Indians by now are no longer surprised when the Modi government shamelessly (whether through fake images on social media, fabricated data, or misleading arguments) lies to defend the indefensible. Yet somehow the government surprises us by making each lie worse than the previous one. The government claims that the GHI methodology is “unscientific:” and that the data is based on a “4 question poll..” It would be best to leave it to Miriam Wiemers, Advisor to the Global Hunger Index to tackle this baseless and absurd claim:
“The (UN Food and Agriculture Organization) FAO’s telephone-based opinion indicator — the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) —— is not used in the GHI. The GHI uses the prevalence of undernourishment indicator, which is assessed by FAO using Food Balance Sheet data from each country.”
Next, let us rebut another claim that the government makes. The government confuses undernourishment with under nutrition. Undernourishment (inadequate calories) is the only indicator where India has performed worse than last year. Undernourishment prevalence rose from 14% to 15.3% between 2017-2019 and 2018-2020. Therefore it is not a surprise that the government singled out this indicator. Ministry of women and child development foolishly said that instead of relying on a poll, the Index should have used measurement of weight and height to calculate the ‘undernourishment’ indicator. This argument could not have been more naive. The GHI already uses height and weight for 2 of its indicators – stunting and wasting. The government seems to be confused between under nutrition and undernourishment. 3 indicators used in the GHI – stunting, wasting and under 5 mortality rate- measure under nutrition (which the government says should be measured). The 4th indicator which measures under nourishment has to do with calories and food supply. Therefore, the government is saying the GHI should measure something it’s already measuring.
Funnily enough the government accepts the GHI finding that India has been improving on the under 5 mortality rate indicator. So the Modi Government is willing to believe the “unscientific” GHI when the index reports an improvement in performance! The government also points out that in the GHI, India’s performance on stunting and wasting has not worsened. Here, the Government “forgot” to mention that for “stunting and wasting”, the GHI has used the same data that it used last time - data from NFHS 4, so naturally there is no change in performance. In fact, the NFHS-5 found that stunting among children below five did not improve at all but wasting worsened in most of the surveyed states and Union Territories since NFHS-4.
The government (which is a maestro at using red herrings and denials every time it is questioned) claims to be “shocked” at the “unscientific methodology” of the GHI. What it should really be shocked at is the continued and worsening extent of hunger and deprivation in our country under Modi, who claims he is the first PM in 70 years to address India’s chronic problems and bring “good times” to Indians.