News Brief

Outrage Over India’s ‘Low’ Global Hunger Rank: Here Are The Major Myths And Why The Ranking Is Misleading

Child holding an Akshaya Patra mid-day meal.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) announced its rankings for the year 2019 in which India has been ranked 102 out of 117 countries included in this metric.

This gave an opportunity to various social media commentators and politicians to attack the ruling Narendra Modi led central government for failing to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in the country.

The latest in the line was senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who alleged that India’s ranking has been steadily falling from 2014, which reveals a “colossal failure in the government’s policy and Sabka Vikas claims”.

In recent years this outrage has become an annual affair with similar condemnations being heaped on the government in the past few years.

In its defence, various analysts and commentators including the members of the NITI Aayog have pointed out the ‘flaws’ in this ranking which has been accused of providing a misleading picture of India’s hunger situation.

Common Misconceptions Spread Around This Index

The most common misconception spread with regards to this project is that, “India was ranked 55 in 2014 and it has deteriorated to 102 in 2019”. This is not true as the ranking in 2014 covered a lower number of countries. Nations with “low hunger” levels were excluded from the ranking - but have since then been included.

Another misconception conveyed via this ranking is that India’s hunger has been steadily increasing over the years, leading to alarmist statements. This too is not true as India has steadily reduced its hunger over time from 46.2 in 1992 to 31.4 in 2017 to 30.3 in 2019.

Are The Rankings Comparable To Draw Conclusions?

When it comes to economic figures like GDP and fiscal deficit an year on year comparison is carried out. For example India registered a 5 per cent GDP growth in the first quarter of 2019. After comparison it was found that the growth was 1.8 percentage points lower than same time last year.

Similarly, making an year on year comparison of India’s current global hunger ranking too is not accurate.

As per an FAQ published on the official website of the global hunger index, the 2019 GHI scores can only be directly compared with scores from the reference years of 2000, 2005, and 2010 at it sources data from previous years.

For example data from 2016 to 2018 has been used for undernourishment and 2014 to 2018 for child stunting and wasting.

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GHI also makes it clear that its rankings for the current year cannot be compared to its previous reports to ascertain whether the situation in a country has improved over the years.

GHI in its explanation states that it regularly carries out revisions of its methodology to rank countries and also increases the total pool of countries.

Is The Ranking Misleading?

Two NITI Aayog members in an opinion piece a couple of years ago had argued that the GHI ranking does not appropriately represent the hunger prevalent in the country.

With regards to the GHI in 2017, it employs four standardised indicators:

  • Percentage of undernourished population
  • Percentage of children under five years who suffer from wasting
  • Percentage of children under five yeas who suffer from stunting
  • Total child mortality

The child mortality and undernourishment total comprises of one-third of the score but covers only 11.5 per cent of the Indian population thus assigning 70.5 per cent weightage to children aged below five who comprise of just 18.5 per cent of the population.

It has thus been argued that while it is a serious issue in its own regard, the under-nutrition among children aged below five cannot be scaled up to conclude the hunger among India’s total population.

The story further argues that factors such as genetics, environment, sanitation and not just food intake determine the weight and height of children.

Another argument against this ranking is that, it clubs children from various countries around the world to compare their heights and weight. This has raised the question as to what contributes to a child’s height or weight. Is is purely based on nutrition or do genetics also play a big role.

It has been argued that an Indian child aged below five has a lower height despite being getting adequate nutrition.

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