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Hunger Games: NITI Aayog Thinks India’s Hunger Crisis Not So Severe

The official think tank of Modi Govt. objects to India being no. 100 out of 119 on the Global Hunger Index.
NITI Aayog

Newsclick Image by Nitesh Kumar

By terming as ‘misleading’, the Global Hunger Index 2017 in which India was ranked 100 out of 119 countries, members of NITI Aayog seem to have either missed the seriousness of hunger in the country – or are only trying to please the government.

The main purpose of the global hunger index GHI, a tool designed by the International Food Policy Research Institute is said to comprehensively measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and national levels and to show ‘long-term progress in reducing hunger’ at the global level. The GHI 2017 is the weighted average of four indicators - undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. Three of the four indicators refer to children under five years. Stating this as a reason, NITI members have concluded that the hunger index as “highly biased” towards under-nutrition of children and claimed that the GHI as not “representing the status of hunger in the overall population”.

It is disappointing that the intellectuals of NITI Aayog did not even consider the several advantages in adopting the specific methodology used in the calculation of GHI. Firstly, the inclusion of child wasting and child stunting indicators allows the GHI to reflect acute and chronic under-nutrition. Secondly, since the children form the vulnerable subset of the population for whom a lack of dietary energy, protein, or micronutrients leads to a high risk of illness, poor physical and cognitive development or death, the method reflects the nutrition situation not only of children but also of the population as a whole. And thirdly, a combination of multiple, independently measured indicators in the index minimizes the effects of random measurement errors.

India is poorly ranked in terms of child health indicators especially in child wasting, with 117 rank out of 119 countries, far behind countries in folds of conflicts, famine, and war. In terms of child mortality and child stunting, India is ranked at 106 and 117, respectively. According to National Family Health Survey 2015-16, the percentage of children under five years who are stunted, wasted and underweight are 38.4, 21.0 and 35.7 respectively.

They have also found fault with the incidence of hunger used in calculating the index by claiming that there is an “inconclusive debate” on the cut-off for minimum energy requirement used in the calculation. While they said that the cut-off minimum energy requirement calculation is different for India from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) average. They have pointed that Indian average is higher than that at a global level, which according to them is one reason for India’s poor rank. But, they forgot to mention the logic for why each country has its own cut-off calculation which is applicable for all the countries of whose GHI was calculated. India uses 2400 kilocalories per day (for rural residents) and 2100 (for urban residents) as the minimum requirement, as per recommendations of ICMR and NIN. This is higher than the FAO global average of 1800 kcal. The reason is that in India, people are doing much more hard physical labour than say people in Western Europe or North America. Hence calorific requirement is more.

There are many other indices where India figures at the lower end: Infant Mortality Index (175/223), Education Index (145/197), World Happiness Index (122/155) and the most comprehensive one, Human Development Index (131/188). What will the NITI Aayog do about these?

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