Web exclusive | Hunger in India

Web exclusive | Hunger in India

New Delhi: The 2009 Global Hunger Index (GHI), released last week by the International Food Policy Research Institute, sheds renewed light on just how acute India’s hunger situation actually is.

Although South Asia has made progress at combating hunger since 1990, the IFPRI report terms the GHI in the region as being “distressingly high." India is near the bottom, ranking at 65 (out of 84 countries) with a GHI of 23.90, which the index characterizes as “alarming." Other countries that fall within this categorization include Rwanda, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Zambia among others.

The index analyzes data pulled from 2002-2007 and considers three variables: the proportion of undernourished as a percentage of the population (reflecting the share of the population with insufficient dietary energy intake); the prevalence of underweight in children under the age of five (indicating the proportion of children suffering from weight loss); and the mortality rate of children under the age of five (partially reflecting the synergy between inadequate dietary intake and unhealthy environments). The index ranks countries on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best score (no hunger) and 100 being the worst.

Listen to Purnima Menon, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute talk about the Global Hunger Index: whether it’s a comprehensive measure of hunger, why India ranks so poorly and whether it’s likely to have a real impact on policy makers.

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Exacerbated by the Economic Crisis

The report puts hunger within the context of the global economic crisis, underscoring that the recession disproportionately aggravates the situation faced by the world’s poorest. It cites data from The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which projects the number of undernourished people in the developing world have increased from 848 million to 1,020 million from 2003-05 to 2009, primarily due to the global food crisis and the recession.

The Gender Effect

The report also links this year’s GHI to last year’s Global Gender Gap Index, particularly to literacy and education levels:  “The evidence shows that higher levels of hunger are associated with lower literacy rates and access to education for women. High rates of hunger are also linked to health and survival inequalities between men and women. Reducing gender disparities in key areas, particularly in education and health, is thus essential to reduce levels of hunger."