India’s hunger problem is worse than North Korea’s: global hunger index report

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New Delhi: India has a “serious” hunger problem and ranks 100 among 119 developing countries, lagging behind countries such as North Korea and Iraq, said the global hunger index report released by Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on Thursday.

With a global hunger index (GHI) score of 31.4, India is at the high end of the “serious” category, the report said, adding, “given that three quarters of South Asia’s population reside in India, the situation in that country strongly influences South Asia’s regional score.”

India’s poor performance brings to the fore the disturbing reality of the country’s stubbornly high proportions of malnourished children—more than one-fifth of Indian children under five weigh too little for their height and over a third are too short for their age, IFPRI said in a statement.

Data from the report showed that India’s rank (100) was lower than all its neighbours—Nepal (72), Myanmar (77), Bangladesh (88), Sri Lanka (84) and China (29)—except Pakistan (106). Even North Korea (93) and Iraq (78) fared better in hunger parameters and GHI rankings, the report.

The report further said that India’s poor score is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of the worst performing region on the GHI scale this year.

While countries like Chile, Cuba and Turkey have a GHI score of less than 5 and ranked the best among developing nations, nations like Chad and Central African Republic fare the worst with a score of 43.5 and 50.9, respectively.

The GHI score is a multidimensional index composed of four indicators—proportion of undernourished in the population, prevalence of child mortality, child stunting, and child wasting. On the severity scale, a GHI score of less than 10 means “low” prevalence of hunger while a score of more than 50 implies an “extremely alarming” situation.

Since 2000, global GHI scores have declined by 27%, yet one in nine people still go hungry around the world, the report said.

On India, the report said that the country’s top 1% own more than 50% of its wealth, India is the world’s second largest food producer, yet it is also home to the second highest population of under-nourished in the world.

“Even with the massive scale up of national nutrition-focused programs in India, drought and structural deficiencies have left a large number of poor in India at risk of malnourishment in 2017,” said P.K. Joshi, IFPRI’s South Asia director.

According to the GHI report, more than a fifth (21%) of children in India suffer from wasting (low weight for height)—up from 20% in 2005-2006. Only three other countries in this year’s GHI—Djibouti, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan—show child wasting above 20%, and India’s child wasting rate has not shown any substantial improvement over the past 25 years, the report said.

By contrast, the report said, India considerably improved its child stunting rate, down 29% since 2000, but even that progress leaves India with a relatively high stunting rate of 38.4%.

“With a GHI score that is near the high end of the serious category, it is obvious that a high GDP growth rate alone is no guarantee of food and nutrition security for India’s vast majority,” said Nivedita Varshneya, India director of Welthungerhilfe, a non-profit which co-authored the GHI report with IFPRI.

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