The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) on 12 October 2017 released a report titled '2017 Global Hunger Index: The Inequalities of Hunger'. In the Global Hunger Index, India ranked at low 100th position out of 119 countries behind North Korea (93rd), Bangladesh and Iraq (78th). Alarmingly, India slipped by 45 positions since 2014 and the present 100th rank is the worst performance so far.
At 31.4, India's 2017 GHI score is at the high end of the 'serious' category, and is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of worst performing region this year, followed closely by Africa South of the Sahara.
It is against this backdrop, it is pertinent to understand the reasons behind India’s poor performance in the Index and the recent steps by the government to address the underlying issues. They are as given below.
The reasons behind India’s persistent problem of hunger are-
Poverty: Poverty is the major reason behind the alarming levels of hunger. Poverty restricts the food choices and has been the causative factor of hunger related deaths. As per the statistics released by the World Bank, around 12% of the county’s population was below the poverty line in 2011-12. The calculation was done on the basis of the Mixed Modified Mixed Reference Period (MMRP) concept proposed by the multilateral agency in 2015. If the persistent high prices of food items and the regional disparities in terms of development, especially the backwardness among the hilly and tribal areas also taken into account, the percentage of people who cannot afford balanced nutrition will be much higher in India.
Multidimensional nature: Hunger and the related under nutrition is the result of various associated factors ranging from water, sanitation, access to food items. A person’s ‘nutritional quotient’ is also dependent demographic factors like gender, caste, age, etc. For instance, the nutritional needs of girl child’s and elderly are not adequately addressed in our society.
Ineffective implementation: Another important reason behind the persistent hunger is the poor implementation of the schemes and policies. As mentioned by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), which releases the annual Hunger Index, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)and the National Health Mission (NHM) have not achieved the adequate coverage.
Debate over India’s ranking
As per some policy experts, India’s poor show in the 2017 ranking doesn’t truly reflect the scenario on the ground for two reasons -because of the methodology adopted and the data used to calculate India’s global ranking.
The 2017 GHI was calculated as a weighted average of four standardized indicators - percentage of the population that is undernourished, percentage of children under five years who suffer from wasting, the percentage of children under five who suffer from stunting, and child mortality. As a result, the ranking assigned 70.5% weightage to children below five years, who constitute only a minor population share and 29.5% weightage to the population above five, who constitute 81.5% of the total population. In effect, India’s ranking was badly reflected.
Another key argument put forward by the critics is that India’s ranking has relied on data of 2012-13, while the ranking of other countries taken into account the recent data.
It has also been mentioned that, had these two ‘anomalies’ were corrected, India’s performance would have been much better in the 2017 GHI.
Policy Response - National Nutrition Mission
In early 2017, the NITI Aayog unveiled the National Nutrition Strategy to bring nutrition into the national development agenda and to deal with the problem of hunger and nutrition in a comprehensive manner. Further, the strategy seeks to achieve Kuposhan Mukt Bharat (India free from malnutrition) by 2022.
To realize the objectives set forth by the Strategy, the Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 30 November 2017 approved the setting up of National Nutrition Mission (NNM) with a three year budget of Rs.9046.17 crore starting from 2017-18.
The mission will be rolled out in three phases from 2017-18 to 2019-20. Its focus is on reducing stunting, under-nutrition, anaemia among young children, women and adolescent girls and reduce low birth weight. The NNM is expected to benefit more 10 crore people cover all the states and districts in a phased manner - 315 districts in 2017-18, 235 districts in 2018-19 and the remaining districts in 2019-20.
The National Food Security Act became functional in September 2013 to provide for food and nutritional security. This was the first step by the government to make nutrition a legal right. Despite its noble objectives, the effectiveness of the Act has been limited as it only ensures “affordable access” to “eligible households” and doesn’t have the universal appeal. It is high time, the policy makers should consider providing for the ‘right to be free from hunger’ as a fundamental right as envisioned by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was ratified by India as early as 1979.