A ‘Serious’ Level Of Hunger
As per the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, the world is supposed to be hunger-free, by 2030. To measure how far the world has made progress towards that goal, two Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) of Ireland and Germany have been publishing the Global Hunger Index (GHI) almost every year since 2000. They use four criteria to determine this index… the percentage of undernourished population (whether Calorie intake is less than the prescribed quantity), wasting of children (the percentage of underweight children of five years of age or younger based on their height), childhood stunting (the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation) and infant mortality rate.
India was steadily improving its ranking in this index every year in the past; however, the trend has changed since 2014. India’s position in the GHI, based on the four criteria, started deteriorating eight years ago. There is no need to consider whether the year 2014 was just a coincidence, or whether it has some deeper significance. The South Asian nation has ranked 107 out of 121 countries in the GHI 2022 with its child wasting rate at 19.3%, being the highest in the world. With a score of 29.1, the level of hunger in India has been labelled serious. In Asia, Afghanistan with a rank of 109 is the only country behind India, as other neighbouring countries – Pakistan (99), Bangladesh (84), Nepal (81) and Sri Lanka (64) – have all fared better than India. There is no room for comparison with China, as the Asian Giant is one of 17 countries with a GHI score of less than five. These countries are not assigned individual ranks, but rather are collectively ranked 1-17 out of the 121 countries with sufficient data to calculate 2022 GHI scores. Differences between their scores are minimal. With a score under five, China has a level of hunger that is low.
The Government of India would have been embarrassed because of this poor ranking. However, New Delhi has issued a statement, saying that it does not accept the findings of the report, which has made an attempt to tarnish the global image of India. The Narendra Modi Administration has stressed that three of the four criteria (on which the GHI is based) are associated with child health. Furthermore, the two NGOs used the Food Insecurity Experience Scale of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), while preparing the index. The Government of India has argued that the scale considers only a small sample of people’s experience of food insecurity in the past year. According to the Government, this small sample survey cannot capture the true image of a country with a huge population like India. In other words, there is no problem in India, and the report is problematic!
India had raised the same objection in 2021, as well. At that time, the GHI claimed that India’s allegation was baseless. The GHI website clearly mentioned that it used the Food Balance Sheet prepared by FAO, using data provided by all member countries (including India), to measure undernourishment. One may think that India is resorting to falsehoods in order to cover up its failures. There is nothing new in this trend. India had done this in the past while preparing hunger indicators. From lack of economic development to religious intolerance, this trend is evident in other areas, as well. In fact, economic development cannot be achieved by ultra-nationalism.
It is a fact that India has overtaken many countries in terms of GDP in recent times. However, it does not benefit the common citizen, because they could not be the sharer of this prosperity. The Government has admitted that there is an inequality in distribution of wealth in India. Other Government statistics, too, have pointed at this inequality.
One should keep in mind that poverty does not take only hunger into account. Poverty is a relative term, as it has a relation with National Income. The higher the National Income of a country, the higher goes the poverty line of it. The income needed to survive in a rich country may be equivalent to that of the middle class in a middle-income country. The survival does not depend only on income, but also on health, education and other social rights. Hence, statistics are required for constant monitoring of the situation. It helps the policy-makers make right decisions. In recent times, the growing lack of the Government’s interest in collecting statistics has been noticed.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is of the opinion that children do not grow properly due to lack of nutrition. The UN agency, working to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable, has also urged Governments to closely monitor the wasting of children and childhood stunting. After the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey, the Government data show that 33.5% of children, under the age of five, did not grow at the required rate in India. This rate was 38.4% in the previous survey. So, one-third of the Indian children are still malnourished, in spite of a slight decrease in the percentage rate. Most importantly, childhood malnutrition shall have an impact on their intellectual development when this generation will grow up. It means one-third of the Indian population shall remain backward in the coming days, as far as intellectual power is concerned.
To resolve any issue, one has to accept the blemishes in the decision-making process. If the Indian political outfits do not get rid of the tendency to gain political advantage on any given issue, then the South Asian nation will surely suffer from Intellectual Disability in future. It will also increase inequality among the Indians. Hence, the Government of India should consider the GHI as a warning.
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