Home / Economy / Can we trust Global Hunger Index ranking?

How is the GHI computed? 

The index is composed of four indicators: prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) and rates of stunting, wasting and mortality among the children under age five. The first and the fourth each contribute one-third, whereas the second and the third each contribute one-sixth of the aggregate score. On a scale of 0 to 100, India’s score in 2022 is 29.1–worse than the 28.2 of the previous reference year of 2014. The slide from 2014 to 2022 is largely due to the increase in PoU and child wasting. The GHI scores are not comparable for years beyond the reference years due to revision in past data and methodology.

What is the govt’s objection? 

Its first objection is that three out of four indicators refer to the health of children, and hence cannot be representative of the entire population. And these indicators are outcomes of complex interactions of various other factors like drinking water, sanitation, and so on, apart from hunger. Its second objection is that the PoU is estimated using the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s Food Insecurity Experience Scale Survey Module (FIES-SM), which is conducted among just 3,000 respondents. The report also ignores the government support during the covid years, it said.

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Is the govt’s reading of the numbers accurate? 

It is true that the index is skewed towards children’s nutrition. However, the health of children under age five is strongly correlated with the nutritional status of their mother during pregnancy and the years of breastfeeding. While the reluctance towards the FIES-SM is debatable, it went through methodological revision during 2020 and 2021.

 

How reliable is the estimate of PoU? 

Its calculation is based on the data of food supply, energy needs and coefficient of variation (CoV) due to differences in income among other factors. As food supply remained largely unchanged during the Covid years, the hike in PoU, from 14.8% in 2014 to 16.3% in 2022, is, hence, largely attributable to the CoV. The CoV’s calculation based on FIES-SM went through a methodological tweak during 2020 and 2021, so it is difficult to ascertain how much of the regression is empirical or technical.

What should the government focus on? 

Given the trust deficit and methodological limitation of GHI, it may be prudent to turn to India’s domestic numbers. The latest data from the National Family Health Survey paints a mixed picture of nutritional status of women and children in India. The decline in child mortality was significant between 2015-16 and 2019-21, but the progress on ​child wasting and stunting was modest. 

Most disconcertingly, there was a sharp rise in the proportion of anaemic children, women in India in the last 5 years.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tauseef Shahidi

Tauseef Shahidi has been with Mint since September 2020. He writes both data-based stories and longform features across beats. As he could not make up his mind to pursue one discipline, he became a journalist to dabble in everything.
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