India has slipped to rank 107 among 121 countries in the latest edition of the Global Hunger Index. The country was ranked 101 out of 116 countries in the 2021 index. With a GHI score of 29.1, the report placed India’s hunger levels under the “serious” category. While this shows an improvement in the “alarming” numbers of 38.8 points in 2000, the report says that India’s child nutrition performance was quite concerning.
The Indian government has maintained its stance that the GHI is an “erroneous measurement of hunger” and part of a “consistent effort” to “taint India’s image.”
What exactly is the GHI, how is it measured, and why has the Centre consistently opposed its annual report?
The GHI measures and tracks global, regional, and national hunger. It maps four indicators across three dimensions. This includes the under-five mortality rate under the “child mortality” dimension, undernourishment under “inadequate food supply”, and child stunting and child wasting under “child undernourishment”.
While child wasting maps the percentage of children under five years of age with a low weight for their height, child stunting counts for the share of children with a low height for their age in the same age group.
The GHI primarily sources data from various multilateral agencies based in the United States and other countries to compute scores under each dimension for all participating countries. These organisations include the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and UNICEF.
Computing the dimensions
Each of the four components under the three dimensions is given a standardised score based on thresholds set slightly above the highest country-level values observed worldwide for that indicator since 1988. For instance, the highest value for undernourishment in this period is 76.5 per cent, so the threshold for standardisation is set at 80 per cent. Thus, if a country has an undernourishment prevalence of 40 per cent, its standardised undernourishment score will be 50 or halfway between having no undernourishment and the maximum observed level.
The standardised scores are then aggregated to calculate the GHI score for each country. Undernourishment and child mortality contribute one-third of the GHI score, while child stunting and wasting each contribute one-sixth of the score.
The GHI scores are marked on a 100-point scale, where 0 is the best score (no hunger), and 100 is the worst. In terms of the criteria ranking scale, a score equal to or below 9.9 is categorised as “low”, 10.0 to 19.9 is “moderate”, 20.0 to 34.9 is serious, 35.0 to 49.9 is alarming, and 50.0 or above is extremely alarming.
The GHI revised its methodology in 2015, which has led to an upward shift in GHI scores for most countries.
India’s standings and objections
India is ranked second lowest amongst the SAARC nations, with Pakistan at 99, Bangladesh at 84, Nepal at 81, and even the crisis-stricken Sri Lanka at 64. Only Afghanistan is ranked lower at 109. Maldives and Bhutan were not ranked.
India’s share of child wasting — 19.3 per cent — is the highest in the world. While the numbers for child stunting have shown improvement, from 54.5 per cent in 2000 to 35.5 per cent now, the share is still too high. Similarly, under-five child mortality has decreased from 7.1 in 2006 to 5.2 in 2012 and 3.3 per cent in 2022.
The Indian government has primarily maintained two major objections over the past two instalments of the GHI. In a press release, the ministry of women and child development (MWCD) says, “Three out of the four indicators used for calculation of the index are related to the health of children and cannot be representative of the entire population.” Moreover, the ministry claims that the estimate of the undernourished population accounts for a very small sample size of 3000 based on the FAO’s Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) survey model.
The GHI official website mentions that they don’t use the FIES and instead rely on the prevalence of undernourishment indicators assessed by the FAO using the Food Balance Sheet, which is based primarily on data officially reported by member countries, including India.
The website also mentions that GHI uses three children-related indicators out of the total four to assess hunger levels for an entire country to ensure “that both the food supply situation of the population as a whole and the effects of inadequate nutrition within a particularly vulnerable subset of the population are captured.”