From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : GHI and its components
Mains level : Paper 2- Low ranking of India on GHI
This year’s Global Hunger Index (GHI) ranks India 101 out of 116 countries for which reliable and comparable data exist.
- Is India’s performance on hunger as dismal as denoted by the index or is it partly a statistical artefact?
- This question assumes immediacy, especially since the government has questioned the methodology and claimed that the ranking does not represent the ground reality.
- This calls for careful scrutiny of the methodology, especially of the GHI’s components.
Understanding the GHI methodology
- The GHI has four components.
- The first — insufficient calorie intake — is applicable for all age groups.
- The data on deficiency in calorie intake, accorded 33% weight, is sourced from the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Suite of Food Security Indicators (2021).
- The remaining three — wasting (low weight for height), stunting (low height for age) and mortality — are confined to children under five years.
- The data on child wasting and stunting (2016-2020), each accounting for 16.6% of weight, are from the World Health Organization, UNICEF and World Bank, complemented with the latest data from the Demographic and Health Surveys.
- Under-five mortality data are for 2019 from the UN Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation.
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 tackling 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 undernutrition and mortality are usually closely related, as child undernutrition 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.
The low ranking does not mean that India fares uniformly poor in every aspect. This ranking should prompt us to look at our policy focus and interventions and ensure that they can effectively address the concerns raised by the GHI, especially against pandemic-induced nutrition insecurity.