The 2023 Global Hunger Index placed India 111 out of 125 countries. According to the report, India scored 28.7 on a 100-point scale, putting the country under the “Serious” hunger category. The report measures hunger through four parameters- undernourishment (in both children and adults), child stunting, child under 5 mortality and child wasting. GHI put India as having the highest child wasting across the world (18.7%). The report puts India lower than it was in 2022 (107).
The Union Government criticised the report, alleging inaccuracies and suggesting malicious intent towards India. However, the study relies on comparable international datasets from the UN and other multilateral agencies. India’s child stunting score is based on the NFHS-5 survey conducted by the country in 2019-21. The Union Government presented data from the Poshan Tracker, indicating a contrasting rate of 7.1%. This sparks a significant debate on which datasets to trust and which to question.
The Women and Child Development Ministry claimed that the index suffers from serious methodological issues, a claim that it has made before regarding the previous GHI reports. The government based their rejection of the report on the fact that three out of the four indicators used by the GHI are related to children’s health and are not representative of the entire population. The other claim is that the PoU or the Proportion of Undernourished population is conducted on a very small sample group of 3,000 people.
The ministry also has stated that child stunting and child wasting are not just outcomes of hunger, they are also an attribution of complex factors such as environment, sanitation and genetics, while also claiming that there is hardly any evidence that child mortality is an outcome of hunger. The UNICEF states that while child stunting is an outcome of limited food security, it can also be a result of a lack of hygiene,clean water and sanitation which can cause diseases that are responsible for almost 50% of all child malnutrition.
While hunger is a serious problem in India, government schemes have impacted under nutrition among children drastically in the past decade. On July 18, the UNDP announced that India uplifted 135 million people out of poverty between 2015-2021. UN India stated that stunting declined from 48% to 35%,the proportion of underweight children fell from 43% to 32% and children who were anaemic fell from 69-58%. Schemes such as the Mid-Day Meals at school and the Aanganwadi systems provide ration to pregnant women and subsidized grains to people below the poverty line through a public distribution system. The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, aims at ensuring food and nutrition security through its associated schemes and programmes, making access to food a right everyone possesses. The launch of the Poshan Abhiyan (nutrition Mission) in 2018 urged a refocus on the agenda of nutrition. The Poshan Abhiyaan Jan Andolan brought forward mass communication regarding nutrition behaviours monthly.
Even with the schemes India has today, one of the challenges lies in the absence of a National Census (current figures use estimates from 2011) and the scrapping of the Household Consumer Expenditure Survey 2017-19 (most recent data is from 2012). In the absence of fresh post-Covid data, it has been difficult to accurately gauge the issue of hunger. While the Poshan Tracker tracks real time data, workers have voiced many concerns regarding the app’s usability, citing linguistic and challenges of internet connectivity. Notably, the job of Anganwadi Workers is to monitor malnutrition- and having the same workers enter data on nutrition in an app is a conflict of interest. The Poshan Tracker is not a replacement for survey data, which is collected by trained enumerators using sampled populations.
In such a context, the state of hunger in India remains worrying- not only is it serious, with high child stunting and wasting rates, but the poor numbers are accompanied by data blind-spots, raising questions about the little data that is available at all. Whether the GHI can be taken as a true reflection of hunger in the country or not, the issue remains the same. Hunger is a very real problem in India which needs to be addressed through implementation of policies and better data collection methods. Child stunting and child wasting may be caused by other factors, but their alarmingly high rates should be of utmost priority. The report on hunger reflects the need for better legislation and execution of said legislation to ensure proper nourishment in the population. With India’s growing population numbers, if hunger is not the agenda of policies, the problem will only continue to grow.