Hunger and Nutrition Issues – GHI, GNI, etc.

[op-ed snap] Stunted, wasted: on Global Nutrition Report 2018


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to poverty & hunger

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Global Nutrition Report 2018, FAO, El Niño

Mains level: Trend in undernourishment across India and the world


Undernourishment rising

  1. The health, longevity and well-being of Indians have improved since Independence, and the high levels of economic growth over the past two-and-half-decades have made more funds available to spend on the social sector
  2. Yet, the reality is that a third of the world’s stunted children under five — an estimated 46.6 million who have low height for age — live in India. A quarter of the children display wasting (that is, low weight for height) as well
  3. As the Global Nutrition Report 2018 points out, this finding masks the wide variation in stunting levels in different parts of the country
  4. A decade-long phenomenon of the number of undernourished people in the world falling between 2003 and 2014, both in absolute terms (from 961.5 million to 783.7 million) and relative to total population (from 15.1% to 10.7%), has reversed during the last three years
  5. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the world’s population suffering from hunger — the food they consume isn’t sufficient to provide the minimum dietary energy requirement for leading a normal, active and healthy life — rose to 784.4 million in 2015, 804.2 million in 2016 and 820.8 million in 2017

Role of agri prices

  1. The reversal of a prolonged declining trend in world hunger has come despite a collapse in international agri-commodity prices after 2014
  2. Ironically, throughout the period of rising food prices from 2003 to 2011, global hunger numbers kept dipping
  3. Using sophisticated simulation models and econometric tools, it has been shown that the increase in food prices during the last decade benefited the rural poor and “likely contributed to faster global poverty reduction from the mid-2000s onward”
  4. Conversely, the recent decline in agricultural prices could retard global poverty reduction
  5. Sustained high prices can stimulate production, leading to increased farm incomes
  6. It may result in a higher demand for unskilled agricultural labour, raising overall rural wages as well
  7. The only losers in the bargain would be the urban poor

Factors affecting hunger

  • The first is the displacement of civilian population and food insecurity resulting from conflicts
  1. Roughly 500 million out of the world’s 821 million undernourished people live in conflict-ridden regions such as West Asia, North and northern sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and Eastern Europe
  2. Violent conflicts, both state-based and between organised armed groups, have increased dramatically, especially after 2010
  • The second is climate variations (in temperature and rainfall) and extremes (leading to droughts, heat waves, floods, storms, etc)
  1. The 2015-16 El Niño — the abnormal warming of the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean waters, known to adversely impact monsoon rainfall in countries such as India — was one of the strongest events of the past 100 years
  2. It also contributed to 2016 being the warmest and 2015 the second warmest year based on recorded global average temperatures
  3. The six warmest years for the planet have all occurred since 2010

The effects of conflicts and climate-related disasters, if any, would be mainly on agricultural production and supply, in turn, driving up commodity prices

Instead, the world has been awash with wheat, corn, rice, soyabean, palm oil, sugar, cotton, milk and almost every other agri-commodity

The story of the last four years, both globally and in India, has been one of glut and depressed price realisation for farmers

  • This has to do with the general economic slowdown and commodity prices (whether agri, oil or metals) themselves falling
  1. These result in lower fiscal revenues and foreign exchange earnings for commodity exporting countries, whose governments, then, have less money to spend on welfare programmes
  2. That — and the fact of poor households also often being producers and now realising lower prices or wages — is a plausible reason for hunger making a comeback even in peaceful settings amidst over-supply of agri-commodities

Interventions required in India

  1. Among the factors affecting the quantity and quality of nutrition are maternal education, age at marriage, antenatal care, children’s diet and household size
  2. Now that mapping of malnutrition at the district level is available, as in the Global Nutrition Report, it is incumbent on State governments to address these determining factors
  3. India should invest more of its economic prosperity in its welfare system, without binding itself in restrictive budgetary formulations

Way forward

  1.  The Economic Survey 2017-18 put social services spending at 6.6% of GDP, an insignificant rise after a marginal decline from the 6% band during the previous year to 5.8%
  2. The latest report on stunting and wasting should convince the Centre that it needs to understand the problem better and work with the States to give India’s children a healthy future

With inputs from the article: Explained: Why number of hungry is rising

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