We, as a nation, have got so used to patting ourselves on the back for every parameter of human development that we have actually started believing that we are the next big story of the world. That is, until someone from the outside holds a mirror to us, as has been done by the 2016 Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report, recently released by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), an international organization that has been releasing data-based reports on Global Hunger Index since 1992.
India ranks a poor 97th out of 118 countries on the hunger Index
Shocking but true. This is where India stands on the Global Hunger Index, so much so for our claims of emerging as a regional super power, a nation that supposedly is the cynosure of world attention for being the fastest developing.
So how does India reconcile itself with this contradiction? And what is the Global Hunger Index anyway?
Defining hunger to understand Global Hunger Index (GHI)
GHI evaluates four parameters for defining hunger and measuring these against comparative data from other developing countries to establishing a ranking Index. The four parameters are:
The number of undernourished people who suffer from insufficient caloric intake, as a percentage of the overall population, has been taken as one of the criteria for measuring hunger.
As per Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the average minimum energy requirement for low physical activity varies from 1,650 to above 1,900 kilocalories per day per person, depending on the country. National nourishment levels are benchmarked against a median of 1800 kilocalories per day.
This refers to children under the age of 5 who suffer from acute undernourishment resulting in being underweight in comparison with their height.
This refers to children under the age of 5 who suffer from chronic undernourishment resulting in stunted growth, where the height does not keep pace with age.
Children below 5 years of age losing their lives as a result of a combination of poor nutrition, unhealthy environment and poor hygiene.
The IFPRI has been analyzing data on the above four parameters from developing countries and has been releasing GHI reports since 1992.
First, the bad news
Despite making significant strides in overall development, India continues to rank a low 97 out of 118 countries that have been included in the 2016 report.
On the ‘severity’ scale, India is clubbed with countries in the ‘serious’ category, falling within a score range of 20.0 to 34.9, where a score ranging 35.0 to 49.9 would reflect an ‘alarming’ status, and a score above 50.0 be termed as ‘extremely alarming’.
India often likes to compare itself with China, but as per 2016 GHI, China ranks way above India and stands at 29 position. China and India have similar demographics therefore the comparison between the two is pertinent.
But what makes worse news is that several countries within South Asia rank higher than India; Nepal – 72, Myanmar-75, Sri Lanka-84, Bangladesh-90. Only Pakistan and Afghanistan rank worse at 107 and 111, respectively. But that’s no consolation.
A quick look at the data for India between 2000 GHI and 2016 GHI, shows that India has actually slipped in GHI from a rank of 83 in 2000 to 108 in 2008, before improving to 97 in 2016.
Between 1992 and 2000, India achieved a decent improvement on the hunger score, coming down from 46.4 to 38.2 (a higher score reflects poor performance). However, between 2000 and 2008, India could only achieve marginal improvement climbing from 38.2 to 36.0. The government’s initiatives during this period obviously had marginal impact.
The low rank for India should be reason enough for all of us to feel ashamed after 70 years of claiming to be the world’s largest democracy and now an emerging regional superpower. The fact is, our children are going hungry, as we read.
Now, the good news
The period between 2000 and 2016 shows India improved its scores significantly, climbing from 38.2 to 28.5. That’s an improvement of around 25% in the last 15 years.
Without doubt, India has a long way to go but it has done a lot to mitigate hunger, especially in children. Initiatives like Mid-Day meals for school children is perhaps the largest successfully running social sector initiative of its kind in the world and is certainly contributing to the improvement in ranking.
The 2030 Agenda – aiming to achieve ‘Zero hunger’
The 2030 Agenda is a global initiative for achieving sustainable development by addressing major issues like poverty and hunger along with child care, health, women’s development and sustainable living. The aim is to achieve ‘Zero hunger’ globally within 14 years by ending hunger, improving nutrition, promoting sustainable agriculture and improving food security.
India must lead the way in not only adopting these goals on ‘mission’ mode but ensuring that it extends all help to all our neighbours in South Asia by sharing our knowledge and experience in sustainable development.
What more India could do
India must build upon the Mid-day meal scheme along with improving nutritional levels for women during pre and post pregnancy, and ensure child nutrition support right upto the age when a child enters school. Thereafter, the mid-day meal program can and must be used effectively.
The mid-day meal program in its current form has to remove inherent shortcomings that is affecting its impact and adopting the following measures will go a long way in achieving far better results:
- Food production must become centralized at the ‘district’ level and distributed in special food-grade disposable and biodegradable packaging the same day, within a radius of 30 kilometres.
- Food must be scientifically planned and production automated to the maximum extent possible to maintain hygiene standards and consistent nutrition value, which is a major challenge today.
- Food must include multi-grain wheat rotis which must be further fortified with the requisite levels of vitamins so that eating 2-3 rotis should adequately deliver adequate and balanced nutritional levels to the child. The Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL) can be roped in to share high nutrition ‘dry’ ration technology that can be easily included into the cooking at district level, to significantly enhance the quality of food intake.
- Several years back the government took a vital step to make ‘iodized’ salt mandatory; as a result, ‘Iodine’ deficiency in the population came down drastically. The high nutrition ‘dry’ ration can be integrated with roti, dal, vegetables and yogurt.
- Food packaging must be automated and completely sealed to ensure quality and hygiene is maintained till the point of consumption. This alone will go a long way in improving nutritional and health levels.
- Food distribution logistics is critical and government must adequately invest in making this a highly streamlined and professional system. The additional costs of the entire supply chain can be offset if the government decides to extend the services on commercial terms to areas like hospitals, both government and private, and other institutions.
While undertaking an exercise like this on a national scale will be costly and a logistic challenge, the overall benefit and ultimate cost savings to the government through improved health standards of children, will outweigh the financial burden.
Yes, we can
The government must take the lead in meeting the 2030 Agenda with a large scale program as suggested above. The Prime Minister has amply demonstrated his appetite for large scale projects through schemes like Jan Dhan and various social sector initiatives. Can it take this up on mission mode? After all, there is a child going hungry yet again today.
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