Home/ Politics / News/  Is our country really as hungry as they say?

India has slid down the Global Hunger Index (GHI) this year, falling behind its South Asian neighbours to rank 101 out of 116 countries. The government has dismissed the report’s ‘unscientific’ methodology. Mint explains the numbers:

What’s  the  controversy surrounding GHI?

The hunger index ranks countries on four indicators: the share of undernourished population, stunting and wasting among children, and child mortality. India’s overall score has improved since 2012, the last year the data is comparable with, but its rank has dropped. India’s rank dropped due to  poorer scores  on  under-5 wasting (from 15.1% in 2012 to 17.3% now) and undernourished Indians (from 15% to 15.3%). The government says the undernourishment score is based on a “four-question" telephonic opinion poll conducted by Gallup, and does not reflect the ground reality. But the report’s publishers deny this.

Is undernourishment score based on a poll?

That particular number in the GHI is based on a 2021 Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report. Indeed, some FAO data relies on Gallup polls, but undernourishment isn’t one of them. This data is based on several indicators, one being the FAO’s “food balance sheets" that estimate the share of population with inadequate access to calories. The government is peeved that the scores do not reflect the welfare work done during the pandemic. But the GHI undernourishment figure reflects the yearly average for 2018-20, and stunting and wasting figures are for 2016-20.

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Are there any limitations with the index?

Yes. First, FAO’s undernourishment data uses a uniform calorie benchmark, which experts say has its own problems. Second, the scores are not comparable across years, so there’s no way of knowing whether India did better or worse in 2021. Third, it will be years before we know India’s true score for 2021 to compare with other countries.

How should one interpret the GHI?

The GHI, like any other index, has its flaws. But it is a peer-reviewed report and has undergone methodological improvements over the years. It is internationally recognized and can be used for a broader understanding of a country’s performance on hunger. The findings are based on data reported by the countries and multilateral organizations. The Centre may dislike the report, but its own family health survey of 2019-20  doesn’t  paint  a  rosy  picture. The GHI can  help  identify  problems that may need policy intervention.

What has been the Centre’s reaction?

The government tends to question international reports that show slippage on socio-economic-political metrics but celebrates the ones that show an improvement. It promoted the now-discredited World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index when it was doing well. But the World Press Freedom Index and the Democracy Index, which showed India sliding, came under  close  scrutiny.  It has  also  been dismissive of unfavourable media reports, such as The Economist’s claim that India’s official covid toll was a gross undercount.

Tanay Sukumar
Tanay leads Mint's data journalism team. His role involves editing and overseeing the newspaper's diverse data offerings, ranging from deep analytical pieces to bite-sized social media charts.
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Updated: 19 Oct 2021, 01:13 AM IST
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