India at bottom of hunger pile
New Delhi: An analysis of hunger levels worldwide released today has ranked India 97 among 118 countries with one in three children in the country facing stunted growth and 15 per cent of the population undernourished from lack of food.
The Global Hunger Index 2016, an assessment by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), has placed India behind Bangladesh, Nigeria and Rwanda and just ahead of North Korea in measures of hunger among their populations.
The IFPRI, collaborating with humanitarian agencies based in Ireland and Germany, used indicators such as the proportion of population undernourished and levels of stunting and wasting among children under five to generate quantitative measures of hunger.
All three indicators have slightly improved in India since the last hunger index in 2008, but the slow pace of reduction suggests that India, among other countries, will be unable to meet the UN goal to end hunger by 2030.
The proportion of population undernourished in India is about 15.2 per cent, a drop from 17.2 per cent in 2008. The prevalence of stunting among children - a sign of chronic under-nutrition - under five reduced from 48 per cent in 2010 to about 38 per cent in 2015.
India's hunger measures were better in Asia than only Afghanistan, North Korea, Pakistan and Timor-Leste. The index has placed China at rank 29. Countries in Asia with the lowest hunger levels are China, Fiji, Malaysia, Thailand and Mongolia.
Nutrition specialists say the analysis underscores the challenges India faces. "We need several things for the numbers in India to improve," said Purnima Menon, a senior research fellow in IFPRI's poverty, nutrition and health division in New Delhi. "Income levels need to rise, access to food needs to become easier and women's nutrition needs to improve - and these will require politician and financial leadership at the state level," Menon told The Telegraph.
India's hunger levels have improved over the past eight years - the index value assigned by IFPRI dropped from 36, which falls in the category of "alarming" hunger, in 2008 to 28.5, which falls in the category of "serious" hunger.
Public health, nutrition, and social science experts point out that agricultural production do not necessarily correlate with hunger levels. "Hunger from abject poverty is not as huge a burden as nutritional deprivation from other factors," said Indrajit Chaudhury, a development sector expert in Patna.
"When cereals are available, there may not be adequate intake of pulses, and the way food is distributed within a household may also contribute to nutritional deprivation," he said.
A working group of health experts and social scientists under the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, or People's Health Movement-India, had said earlier this year that hunger and malnutrition are created by structural poverty and inequality with resultant food insecurity.
The group led by Vandana Prasad, a paediatrician with the New Delhi-based non-government Public Health Resource Network, had pointed out in a commentary in the journal Social Medicine that less than 60 per cent rural and less than 80 per cent urban residents get paid employment throughout the year.
The group, which included development economist Jean Dreze, among others, had also said the levels of investments in initiatives such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Food Security Act, or the mid-day meal programmes have been inadequate to support required nutrition to the poor.
The Telegraph, 12 October, 2016, http://www.telegraphindia.com/1161012/jsp/frontpage/story_113034.jsp#.V_5aHvT3_N4