Measuring hunger across states
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) for the year 2022 ranked India at 107 out of 121 countries, placing it behind Nigeria (103) and Pakistan (99).
GS-02 (Growth and Development, Health)
Discuss as to how variations occur in undernourished levels among different Indian states and explain the potential of the sub national data collections of the GHI for policy formulation and implementation. 250 words.
Dimensions of the article:
- Factors Contributing to Hunger and Malnutrition
- Hunger Across States and Union Territories
- Historical Context
- Challenges in Recent Years
- The Role of the GHI
Factors Contributing to Hunger and Malnutrition:
- Disparities Among States: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report for 2022 tells that India has 224.3 million undernourished individuals and it is not evenly distributed in all states. Utilizing subnational data having the GHI dimensions gives more localized hunger index for Indian states and union territories.
- The State Hunger Index (SHI): Calculated using indicators such as the prevalence of calorie undernourishment, stunting, wasting, and mortality among children below the age of five, the SHI offers an insightful perspective. In place of Calory specific counting, the SHI incorporates body mass index (BMI) undernourishment among the working-age population. The SHI scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating greater hunger. Scores below 10 indicate low hunger, 10-20 moderate, 20-30 serious, 30-40 alarming, and 50 or above extremely alarming.
Hunger Across States and Union Territories
- Alarming Hunger in Certain States: States like Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh score alarmingly high on the SHI, with a score of 35. This categorizes them as ‘alarming.’ Notably, their performance aligns with nations in Africa, such as Haiti, Niger, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
- High Hunger Scores Across Several States: States like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura, Maharashtra, and West Bengal all score above the national average (29). These states’ performance mirrors that of countries with significant hunger issues.
- Moderate Hunger in Some Regions: On the other hand, states like Chandigarh, Sikkim, Puducherry, Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram, Punjab, Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and Tamil Nadu fall under the ‘moderate hunger’ category, with scores below 16.
- Serious Hunger Prevalent: All other states, scoring below the national average but above 20, face a problem of ‘serious hunger.’ Interestingly, no state falls under the ‘low hunger’ category. It’s important to note that the impact of COVID-19 on the SHI is not accounted for due to the unavailability of post-pandemic estimates.
- In 2008, Purnima Menon, Anil Deolalikar, and Anjor Bhaskar undertook an effort to assess hunger variation at the subnational level using the methodology employed at that time for calculating the GHI. Their findings revealed Punjab as the leader among the 17 assessed states, closely followed by Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. In contrast, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh ranked as the least-performing states.
Challenges in Recent Years
- Over the past five years, India’s GHI score has deteriorated primarily due to an increase in calorie undernourishment. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports a rising proportion of calorie undernourishment in India since 2017, reaching 16.3% in 2020, a figure reminiscent of the 2009 statistic.
- The Indian government has disputed these findings, citing concerns about the data and methodology used in GHI calculations. However, it has failed to provide concrete empirical evidence to substantiate its claims.
- The government has not conducted a National Sample Survey (NSS) round on nutritional intake since 2011-12, which used to offer valuable insights into the prevalence of calorie undernourishment at both the national and subnational levels. Regrettably, the NSS report lacks information on household food insecurity, as it introduced four key questions in the 78th round conducted in 2020-21.
The Role of the GHI:
- While the Global Hunger Index has faced significant scrutiny from experts concerning its conceptualization, selection of indicators, and aggregation methods, it remains a critical tool for gaining insights into the state of undernourishment and child nutrition.
- India’s underwhelming performance in the GHI is primarily attributed to its high levels of undernourishment and child malnutrition. Notably, India ranks unfavourably in child wasting, performing worse than many low-income African nations.
- According to data from the National Family Health Survey-5, one-third of children under the age of five in India are stunted and underweight, while every fifth child is afflicted by wasting.
Despite India’s commendable strides in alleviating extreme poverty over the last 15 years, as demonstrated by the recent National Multidimensional Poverty Index, persistent challenges continue to cast a shadow on efforts to address disparities in food insecurity, hunger, and child malnutrition.