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Insights into Editorial: A misleading hunger index

Insights into Editorial: A misleading hunger index


Per capita food production in India has increased by 26% (2004-05 to 2013-14), while it has doubled in the last 50 years. While this kind of growth rate in food production is expected to reduce hunger significantly over time, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), shows India’s hunger level in very poor light.

With over 21 per cent of children wasted-low weight for height, India has been ranked 100th among 119 developing countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI), behind North Korea, Bangladesh and even Nepal.

Global Hunger Index

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally and by country and region.

  • The GHI highlights successes and failures in hunger reduction and provides insights into the drivers of hunger.
  • By raising awareness and understanding of regional and country differences in hunger, the GHI aims to trigger actions to reduce hunger.

The GHI combines four component indicators:

  1. the proportion of the undernourished as a percentage of the population;
  2. the proportion of children under the age of five suffering fromwasting (low weight-for-height);
  3. the proportion of children under the age of five suffering from stunting(low height-for-age);
  4. the mortality rate of childrenunder the age of five

Global Hunger Index 2017

The 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI) report—the twelfth in an annual series—presents a multidimensional measure of hunger at the global, regional, and national levels.

  • It shows that the world has made progress in reducing hunger since 2000, but that this progress has been uneven, with levels of hunger still serious or alarming in 51 countries and extremely alarming in one country.
  • This year’s report shines a light on the inequalities underlying hunger—including geographic, income, and gender inequality—and the inequalities of social, political, and economic power in which they are rooted.

Key highlights of the report

  • At 21.8 on a scale of 100, the average GHI score for 2017 is 27 percent lower than the 2000 score (29.9)
  • Despite these improvements, a number of factors, including deep and persistent inequalities, undermine efforts to end hunger and under nutrition worldwide. As a result, even as the average global hunger level has declined, certain regions of the world still struggle with hunger more than others, disadvantaged populations experience hunger more acutely than their better-off neighbours, and isolated and war-torn areas are ravaged by famine.
  • In early 2017, the United Nations declared that more than 20 million people were at risk of famine in four countries: Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. These crises are largely “manmade,” the result of violent conflict and internal strife that are preventing people from accessing food and clean water and keeping aid organizations from reaching people in need.
  • At the regional level, South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara have the highest 2017 GHI scores—30.9 and 29.4, respectively, indicating serious levels of hunger.
  • Given that three-quarters of South Asia’s population resides in India, the situation in that country strongly influences South Asia’s regional score. At 31.4, India’s 2017 GHI score is at the high end of the serious category.
  • The 2017 GHI score has India ranked 100 out of the 119 countries listed.
  • India’s ranking in terms of child mortality, child stunting and child wasting is 80, 106 and 117, respectively.
  • India’s child wasting rate has not substantially improved over the past 25 years. But the country has made progress in other areas: Its child stunting rate, while still relatively high at 38.4 percent, has decreased in each of the reference periods in this report, down from 61.9 percent in 1992.
  • India has implemented a “massive scale-up” of two national programs that address nutrition—the Integrated Child Development Services and the National Health Mission—but these have yet to achieve adequate coverage.
  • Areas of concern include
  • the timely introduction of complementary foods for young children (that is, the transition away from exclusive breastfeeding)
  • the share of children between 6 and 23 months old who receive an adequate diet—a mere 9.6 percent for the country;
  • household access to improved sanitation facilities—a likely factor in child health and nutrition—

Why do some analysts say “Hunger Index” is highly misleading?

Undernourishment and child mortality each make up a third of the GHI score, while child stunting and child wasting make up a sixth of the score, and together make up a third of the score.

  • Three of the four indicators, refer only to children below five who constitute only 11.5% of India’s population.
  • Further, the percentage of the undernourished population is inclusive of under nutrition among children.
  • This way, the GHI assigns 70.5% weightage to children below five who constitute only a minor population share and 29.5% weightage to the population above five, which constitutes 81.5% of the total population.
  • Therefore, the term “Hunger Index” is highly biased towards under nutrition of children rather than representing the status of hunger in the overall population.
  • It would be more appropriate to term the conceptualisation and composition of this composite index as a “Global Hunger and Child Health Index” than as a “Global Hunger Index”.

Evidence shows that weight and height of children are not solely determined by food intake but are an outcome of a complex interaction of factors related to genetics, the environment, sanitation and utilisation of food intake. The IFPRI acknowledges that only 45% of child mortality is due to hunger or under nutrition.

Calculating hunger

The incidence of hunger is taken as the proportion of the population whose food intake provides less than its minimum energy requirements.

The figure of the incidence of hunger depends on energy norms and the methodological approach used in its estimation.

There is still inconclusive debate on the cut-off for minimum energy requirement calculation.

  • At a global level, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has an average norm of 1,800 kcal, while the Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Nutrition (ICMR-NIN) specified average norm of 2,400 kcal for rural areas and 2,100 kcal for urban areas in India, varies across age, gender and activity-level.
  • There is a strong case to revise the ICMR-NIN norms as the actual requirement of energy is decreasing due to a shift towards mechanisation and more congenial work conditions and environment.

There is a large difference in the incidence of undernourishment (hunger) reported by the FAO and estimates prepared by various experts. It follows from the large variation in the choice of norm and methodology and data used for such estimation.

Policy Recommendations

Although enough food is produced globally to feed the world, hunger persists—largely the product of various and severe inequalities.

Yet neither hunger nor inequality is inevitable; both are rooted in uneven power relations that often are perpetuated and exacerbated by laws, policies, attitudes, and practices.

The following recommendations aim at redressing such power imbalances in order to alleviate hunger among the most vulnerable:

  • Governments must actively include in the policy-making process underrepresented groups, such as small-scale farmers, that are involved in producing food and feeding people.
  • International bodies aiming to increase food and nutrition security must ensure the meaningful participation of people’s movements and civil society organizations from all parts of the world to generate more productive debates around paradigms of food systems.
  • Governments must ensure space for civil society to play its role in holding decision makers to account on their obligation to protect and ensure the Right to Food.
  • Governments should create and enforce regulatory frameworks to safeguard citizens—especially the most vulnerable—from the negative impacts of international trade and agriculture agreements.
  • National policies should take into account how hunger and malnutrition are distributed across the population, and how power inequalities affect different groups in society.
  • Increase Support for Small-Scale Food Producers: Governments should build the capacity of small-scale producers, particularly women, by ensuring access to public services such as infrastructure, financial services, information, and training.
  • National governments must provide access to education and create social safety nets.
  • Hold Governments Accountable with Timely Data.

Way Forward

The 2017 Global Hunger Index shows positive developments on many fronts, but there are still deep inequalities in hunger and under nutrition at the regional, national, and subnational levels.

Too many people lack access to the quantity and quality of food they need. And too many people are not healthy enough to nutritionally benefit from food.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda includes the goal of ending hunger worldwide, while “leaving no one behind” (UN 2015).

Examining hunger through the lens of inequality brings into sharper focus those populations, at all levels, who have so far been left behind.

As we make progress in combating hunger, we should apply lessons learned and concentrate attention and resources on the areas where hunger and under nutrition are still unacceptably high in order to further decrease hunger in the future.