Hunger index: The devil in the detail

| Updated on: Oct 26, 2017
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Media reports on India’s ranking on the Global Hunger Index prove statistics are as good as the one who interprets them

When I was in Class 2, I was ranked 2nd in my class. Interestingly, there were three students only in my class. When I was in Class 10, I was ranked 11th in the class. And there were 50 of us. Then, my class teacher reported to my father: “Sathya Raghu’s rank has dropped from 2 to 11”.

Misleading, right? So are the media reports on Global Hunger Index (GHI) rankings which came out recently. I am reminded of Mark Twain who once said, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” Statistics are as good as the one who interprets them.

Once again, the Modi government is in the news for achieving a ‘shameful’ rank of 100 out of 119 nations in the Global Hunger Index. More surprisingly, many mainstream media outlets reported that India ranks lower than North Korea, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Let us check facts

The lower the index, the better equipped is the country to prevent hunger and malnutrition. It is important to note that IFPRI changed the index in 2015 to make it more comprehensive. In 2014, there were only 76 countries for discussion, 104 in 2015 and 119 today. So India’s GHI of 17.8 in 2014 and 29.0 in 2015 are also not directly comparable. India ranked lower than North Korea in 2017, 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012. So, there is no sensational news regarding this in 2017. In fact, India ranked lower than Pakistan in 2012 and 2013.

I am not proud to see India rank 100 out of 119 nations in 2017. I am not trying to justify that this is a good place to be in. I am just expressing my disappointment when inappropriate analysis is made to create political news out of a development index.

What is GHI?

GHI considers four parameters to for ranking countries:

Undernourishment: share of the population that is undernourished, reflecting insufficient caloric intake;

Child wasting: share of children under the age of five who are wasted (low weight-for-height), reflecting acute under-nutrition;

Child stunting: share of children under the age of five who are stunted (low height-for-age), reflecting chronic under-nutrition; and

Child mortality: mortality rate of children under age five

India is expected to see a growth of 16.5 per cent in population over the next decade. More than 50 per cent of India’s population is below the age of 25 currently and more than 65 per cent is below the age of 35.

It is expected that in 2020 the average age of an Indian will be 29 years. So the fresh population that is going to be added is the reason for reduction in age. If our young population should be an asset for the country, they should certainly be healthy, and poor GHI is never a good sign.

How does power work in the food system? Gender inequality is one of the prime contributors. Typically, women in many societies consume food after the men consume.

This continues even when they are pregnant or immediately post their delivery. Starting from the time the child is in the mother’s womb, if for the first 1,000 days the child experiences malnutrition, the child will experience serious health complications at different stages in life. Inadequate weight and stunted height are generally a consequence of poverty and lack of access to nutritious food.

Even though it is said that the world has enough food to feed its population, hunger persists. It is unfortunate that 30 per cent gets wasted and billions go to bed hungry. Food security is not just about sufficiency of food, it is also about the appropriateness of the food from a nutrition standpoint.

According to 2017 GHI scores, the level of hunger in the world has decreased by 27 per cent from the 2000 level. While this needs appreciation, we should remind ourselves that the job is not close to the finish line. There is massive injustice to millions who are experiencing chronic hunger from food crises and famines.

Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Lack of access to food is injustice of the first order. It is our collective responsibility to solve it rather than merely sensationalising statistics.

What should be done?

Listen to the voices unheard. Often, policymakers make hypotheses regarding what marginalised communities require without first talking to them. How can a doctor prescribe medicines without talking to the patient? Small farmers, farm labour and urban poor should also form part of the policies affecting food security.

The Government must be bold enough to admit failure and should have courage to restart: Often, problems remain due to denial. Governments should have the humility to see the realities from the field, listen to critics and learn from mistakes. Integral to this is freedom of assembly and association, including peaceful protest, and the right to information

Prioritisation: Like any corporate, the Government should also have key performance indicators and they should be linked largely to achieving sustainable development goals. GDP numbers and stock exchange performance doesn’t matter to common people as much as these do.

Education and social safety nets: Improving education is a key focus area. Governments must focus on income security for marginalised segments and provide them with meaningful nutrition and healthcare. It is important to acknowledge that not all problems have business solutions and welfare cannot be forgotten.

Let us do our bit to change our country instead of merely sharing inappropriate statistics through social media.

The writer is co-founder of Kheyti, a farm startup

Published on March 09, 2018

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