China / World

India's poor rating in hunger index alarms economists

By Manoj Chaurasia in Patna, India (China Daily) Updated: 2019-10-24 07:34

India's poor rating in the Global Hunger Index, or GHI, has drawn both concern and criticism, with economists terming the situation alarming. They suggest the government needs to focus on proper implementation of programs launched for the benefit of affected groups.

The index is an international tool to measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and national levels. India, which aims to become a $5 trillion economy, is ranked 102 out of 117 countries in the GHI 2019 report. It slipped from 93 in 2015, and trails behind its smaller South Asian neighbors such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Sri Lanka is ranked 66, Nepal 73, Bangladesh 88 and Pakistan 94.

India's performance is better than only 15 listed countries, such as conflict-ridden Yemen and Afghanistan, according to the report prepared jointly by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organization Welt Hunger Hilfe. The GHI score is based on four indicators: undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality.

"The GHI report clearly means Indian villagers are battling hard for survival. How can they eat food when they are facing a severe job crisis?" asked economist DM Diwakar. Due to a lack of adequate job opportunities, he said, people face severe financial crises at home as a result of which they do not give proper attention to nutrition, resulting in malnourished babies.

"Malnourished children mean their mothers are underfed or they are somehow surviving on leftover foods. How can a nation march forward when the women are malnourished?" asked Diwakar, former director and head of the economics department at AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies in Patna, India.

Regional disparity in India is another factor responsible for this situation, he said. "While some Indian states are developing fast, states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Orissa lag behind in the development index. There must be uniformity in development for proper growth."

Another economist, NK Chaudhary, blamed the Indian government's demonetization of high-value currency notes in November 2016 as a factor for the dismal performance of India in the GHI. "Demonetization adversely impacted the real income of the vulnerable groups. How can they think about a nutritious diet when they battle hard to stay alive?" asked Chaudhary, a former economist with Patna University.

"Also, slum areas are expanding fast in India, which means the government is not paying proper attention to the poor," Chaudhary said.

He suggested "massive structural reforms" and also "massive emphasis on the poor".

A senior official of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, questioned the methodology used for the calculations.

"The GHI figure is based on average data of three years rather than on a year-to-year basis that would help compute transformation. The average of 2015-17 for the GHI is better than the average of 2016-18(the three-year period). And the efforts made by the government have not been taken into consideration," said the BJP's national spokesman Sudesh Verma.

He claimed that the data collected by the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (2016-18), which uses a similar methodology, shows tremendous progress in key areas.

"The improvement has been happening because of strong governmental intervention to tackle malnutrition. For example, 9.81 million pregnant and lactating women have been benefitted from the government's cash transfer scheme - of 5,000 rupees ($70.5) - under the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (a maternity benefit program) launched in 2017," he said.

The author is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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