[Burning Issue] Hunger and Poverty in India

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India, with a population of over 1.3 billion, has seen tremendous growth in the past two decades. Gross Domestic Product has increased 4.5 times and per capita consumption has increased 3 times. Similarly, food grain production has increased almost 2 times. However, despite phenomenal industrial and economic growth and while India produces sufficient food to feed its population, it is unable to provide access to food to a large number of people, especially women and children.

In recently published the Global Hunger Index (GHI), India has slid down, falling behind its South Asian neighbors to rank 101 out of 116 countries. The government has dismissed the report’s ‘unscientific’ methodology.

Poverty and hunger have been a universal and increasing menace to humankind. Let us learn about these issues in detail.


  • Hunger is the condition where both adults and children cannot access food constantly and have to decrease food intake, eat poor diets, and often go without any food. (Dillon and Marquand, 2011).
  • According to Amartya Sen, the real cause for hunger is the lack of ability to pay for food.

Root causes of hunger

  • World hunger has many annoying factors and major causes, such as insufficient economic systems, misinformation, and climate changes.
  • But the main unbearable factor is poverty as poverty always has led to people going without regular meals because they cannot afford to eat.
  • There are majority of people in developing countries such as Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia that are in desperate need of food. With the growth of population, the number of hungry people also increases at an uneven rate.
  • Climate change is also a major issue for world hunger.
    • With the amount of rain that a country gets increases, it can possibly lead to serious flooding. Flooding adversely affects how much food is produced and available to the impoverished and raises the costs.
  • Among numerous issues, Hunger and malnutrition are closely associated in Indian scenario.
    • The Global Study revealed that 42% children in India are underweight and 58% of children are stunted by two years of age.
    • Malnutrition occurs when a person’s body receives little or no nutrients. People who are malnourished get sick more often and as a result in many cases die.
    • Malnutrition is consequently the most important risk factor for the problem of disease in developing countries.
    • It is the direct cause of about 300,000 deaths per year and is indirectly responsible for about half of all deaths in young children.
  • It can be said that world hunger must be taken seriously and should be approached with all deliberate and instant policies.
  • There are different issues of world hunger but the three main ones are poverty, climate changes, and also feeble economies.


  • In India, 21.9% of the population lives below the national poverty line in 2011.
  • In India, the proportion of the employed population below $1.90 purchasing power parity a day in 2011 is 21.2%.
  • For every 1,000 babies born in India in 2017, 39 die before their 5th birthday.
  • Poverty is a condition characterized by lack of basic needs such as water, health care, foods, sufficient access to social and economic services, and few opportunities for formal income generation.
  • Poverty is often described in terms of the income level below which people are unable to access sufficient food for a healthy working life.
  • Hunger and food insecurity are the most serious forms of extreme poverty.
  • Progress in poverty reduction has been concentrated in Asia and especially East Asia. In other areas, the number of people in extreme poverty has increased especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Poverty in India is primarily due to improper government policies and the misuse of the financially weaker section by the wealthier community.
  • The main outcome of poverty is hunger. Hunger’s seriousness can be understood easily from the fact that every year, 5.8 million children die from hunger related-causes around the world (FAO Hunger Report 2008).
  • Poverty involves more than the lack of income and productive resources to ensure sustainable livelihoods. Its manifestations include hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and elimination as well as the lack of participation in decision-making.

Poverty in India and other developing countries

Reports of the World Bank revealed that India is one of the poorest countries in the world.  Some of the main issues associated with prevalent poverty in India are poor health services, and insufficient education and training. Almost half of India’s population drops out of school by the age of thirteen and only one in ten people receive some form of job training.

  • Poor health services: It has been observed that People of India have less access to good health services as compared to industrialized nations. The relationship between poverty and access to health care can be seen as part of a larger cycle, where poverty leads to ill health and ill health maintains poverty.
  • Child malnutrition: The occurrence of under-nutrition in India is amongst the highest levels found in any country in the world and in spite of the development in food production, disease control and economic and social development; India is facing an acute problem of child malnutrition.
  • Insufficient education and training: In developing countries, children do not have access to basic education because of inequalities that originate in sex, health and cultural identity. It has been revealed in reports that illiteracy and lack of education are common factor that lead to poverty.
    • Governments of developing countries often cannot have enough money to provide for good public schools, especially in rural areas.
    • Poor people also often sacrifice schooling in order to concentrate on making a minimal living.
    • Additionally, developing countries tend to have few employment opportunities, especially for women. As a result, people do not want to attend school.
  • Corruption and warfare: Political power is unreasonably centralized. This often causes development problems. In these situations politicians make decisions about places that they are unaware with, lacking sufficient knowledge about the context to design effective and appropriate policies and programs.
    • Another issue related with poverty is corruption often accompanies centralization of power, when leaders are not accountable to those they serve. Corruption hinders development.
    • Warfare also lead to entrenched poverty by diverting scarce resources allocated for reducing poverty to maintaining a military.
  • Environmental degradation: It is also a major issue in increasing poverty.
    • In the developing world, the poor communities depend on natural resources to fulfill their basic needs.
    • Therefore, the depletion and impurity of water sources directly impend the livelihoods of those who depend on them.
  • Inequality: One of the more deep-rooted sources of poverty around the globe is social inequality that stems from cultural ideas about the relative worth of different genders, races, ethnic groups, and social classes.
  • Other causes include:
    1. Population Rise
    2. Low Productivity in Agriculture
    3. Under-Utilized Resources
    4. Low Rate of Economic Development
    5. Price Rise
    6. Unemployment
    7. Shortage of Capital and Able Entrepreneurship
    8. Social Factors

Global Hunger Index (GHI)

The Global Hunger Index is a peer-reviewed annual report, jointly published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe.

  • It determines hunger on a 100-point scale, where 0 is the best possible score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst.
  • It is designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and country levels.
  • The aim of the GHI is to trigger action to reduce hunger around the world.

For each country in the list, the GHI looks at four indicators:

  1. Undernourishment (which reflects inadequate food availability): calculated by the share of the population that is undernourished (that is, whose caloric intake is insufficient)
  2. Child Wasting (which reflects acute undernutrition): calculated by the share of children under the age of five who are wasted (that is, those who have low weight for their height)
  3. Child Stunting (which reflects chronic undernutrition): calculated by the share of children under the age of five who are stunted (that is, those who have low height for their age)
  4. Child Mortality (which reflects both inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environment): calculated by the mortality rate of children under the age of five

India’s (poor) performance

  • India is among the 31 countries where hunger has been identified as serious.
  • Only 15 countries fare worse than India.
  • Some of these include Afghanistan (103), Nigeria (103), Congo (105), Mozambique (106), Sierra Leone (106), Timor-Leste (108), Haiti (109), Liberia (110), Madagascar (111) and Somalia (116).
  • India was also behind most of the neighbouring countries.
  • Pakistan was placed at 92 rank, Nepal at 76 and Bangladesh also at 76.

Reasons for such poor performance

  • Poor maternal health: Mothers are too young, too short, too thin and too undernourished themselves, before they get pregnant, during pregnancy, and then after giving birth, during breast-feeding.
  • Poor sanitation: Poor sanitation, leading to diarrhoea, is another major cause of child wasting and stunting.
  • Food insecurity: Low dietary diversity in India is also a key factor in child malnutrition.
  • Poverty: Almost 50 million households in India are dependent on these small and marginal holdings.
  • Livelihood loss: The rural livelihoods loss after COVID and lack of income opportunities other than the farm sector have contributed heavily to the growing joblessness in rural areas.

Issues with GHI

  • The GHI is largely children-oriented with a higher emphasis on undernutrition than on hunger and its hidden forms, including micronutrient deficiencies.
  • The first component — calorie insufficiency — is problematic for many reasons.
  • The lower calorie intake, which does not necessarily mean deficiency, may also stem from reduced physical activity, better social infrastructure (road, transport and healthcare) and access to energy-saving appliances at home, among others.
  • For a vast and diverse country like India, using a uniform calorie norm to arrive at deficiency prevalence means failing to recognise the huge regional imbalances in factors that may lead to differentiated calorie requirements at the State level.

Understanding the connection between stunting and wasting and ways to tackle them

  • India’s wasting prevalence (17.3%) is one among the highest in the world.
  • Its performance in stunting, when compared to wasting, is not that dismal, though.
  • Child stunting in India declined from 54.2% in 1998–2002 to 34.7% in 2016-2020, whereas child wasting remains around 17% throughout the two decades of the 21st century.
  • Stunting is a chronic, long-term measure of undernutrition, while wasting is an acute, short-term measure.
  • Quite possibly, several episodes of wasting without much time to recoup can translate into stunting.
  • Effectively countering episodes of wasting resulting from such sporadic adversities is key to making sustained and quick progress in child nutrition.
  • Way forward: If India can tackle wasting by effectively monitoring regions that are more vulnerable to socioeconomic and environmental crises, it can possibly improve wasting and stunting simultaneously.

Low child mortality

  • India’s relatively better performance in the other component of GHI — child mortality — merits a mention.
  • Studies suggest that child under nutrition and mortality are usually closely related, as child under nutrition plays an important facilitating role in child mortality.
  • However, India appears to be an exception in this regard.
  • This implies that though India was not able to ensure better nutritional security for all children under five years, it was able to save many lives due to the availability of and access to better health facilities.

Initiatives by Government to Curb Poverty in India

Ending poverty in all its forms is the first of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The government of India took several initiatives to eradicate poverty from the country.

  1. Saansad Aadarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY)Ministry of Rural development initiated the scheme in 2014. The scheme aims to develop five ‘Adarsh Villages’ or ‘Model Villages’ by 2024.
  2. National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM)Ministry of Rural Development started NRLM 2011 to evolve out the need to diversify the needs of the rural poor and provide them jobs with regular income on a monthly basis.
  3. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) – In 2005 Ministry of Rural Development initiated MGNEREGA to provide 100 days of assured employment every year to every rural household. One-third of the proposed jobs would be reserved for women.
  4. National Urban Livelihood Mission (NULM) – In 2013, NULM was commenced by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs focusing on organizing urban poor in Self Help Groups, creating opportunities for skill development leading to market-based employment, and helping them to set up self-employment ventures by ensuring easy access to credit.
  5. Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) – the Ministry of Finance in 2014 initiated PMJDY that aimed at direct benefit transfer of subsidy, pension, insurance, etc., and attained the target of opening 1.5 crore bank accounts. The scheme particularly targets the unbanked poor.

Hunger and Poverty are the biggest challenges for good governance in India still today. Evaluate how far successive governments have progressed in dealing with these humongous problems. Suggest measures for improvement. (250 words)

Post your answers in comments below.

Initiatives by Government to fight against Hunger in India

The Government of India took several initiatives to fight against hunger across the nation.

  1. National Nutrition Mission (NNM), Poshan Abhiyan – NNM was started in 2018 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to reduce the level of under-nutrition and also enhance the nutritional status of children in the country.
  2. National Food Security MissionMinistry of Agriculture initiated NFSM in 2007 to increase the production of rice, wheat, pulses, and coarse cereals through area expansion and productivity enhancement in a sustainable manner.
  3. Zero Hunger Programme – launched on October 16, 2017 with the aim to make farm inventions, organizing the farming system for nutrition, setting up genetic gardens for biofortified plants and initiating zero hunger training.
  1. Eat Right India Movement: An outreach activity organized by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for citizens to nudge them towards eating right.
  2. Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana: A centrally sponsored scheme executed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, is a maternity benefit programme being implemented in all districts of the country with effect from 1st January, 2017.
  3. Food Fortification: Food Fortification is the addition of key vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A & D to staple foods such as rice, milk and salt to improve their nutritional content.
  4. National Food Security Act, 2013: It legally entitled up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidized food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System.
  5. Mission Indradhanush: It targets children under 2 years of age and pregnant women for immunization against 12 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (VPD).

Global Initiative against Poverty and Hunger

Food is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 2 of SDG deals with Zero Hunger. Given below are some global level initiatives to fight poverty and hunger-

  1. The End to Poverty Initiative – This Centenary Initiative is designed specifically as the vehicle to take forward the ILO’s work in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to alleviate poverty.
  2. Zero Hunger By World Food Programme – with humanitarian food assistance, provide nutritious food to those in urgent need. Meanwhile, the complementary programs address the root causes of hunger and build the resilience of communities.
  3. Fight Hunger First – With a vision to have a world without hunger and poverty, Welthungerhilfe- WHH has been implementing several initiatives in rural areas of India and Bangladesh. It was set up by a UN agency FAO.
  4. Zero Hunger Challenge (Save Food) by FAO – The 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, launched the Zero Hunger Challenge which includes addressing the sustainability of all food systems and the vision of zero food loss and waste (FLW).


Food insecurity remains an alarming issue due to such entitlement failures in India. While the government has rejected the findings of the Global Hunger Index as “unscientific”, we cannot ignore the dismal ground realities. India faces a malnutrition challenge that is not only large but worsening. It is time for the government to face up to these inconvenient truths and pursue the means and mechanisms needed to improve the situation. A safe and bright future for our children will translate into a safe and bright future for the country. And that’s the message we want every fellow citizen to internalize — Sahi Poshan, Desh Roshan.

There is a growing divergence in the relationship between poverty and hunger in India. The shrinking of social expenditure by the government is forcing the poor to spend more on non-food essential items squeezing their food budget. Elucidate. (250 words)

Post your answers in comments below.

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