Saturday, October 15th, 2016

India’s hunger index lower than Rwanda, Bangladesh

Rashme Sehgal | October 15, 2016 12:11 pm Print
"With food prices rising rapidly, the poor are subsisting on a diet of carbohydrates and can no longer afford milk-based foods and proteins such as meat and eggs," a community paediatrician said
Hungry People India

Why is India slipping on Global Hunger Index (GHI)? India’s status has plummeted and today it finds itself ranked below Rwanda and Bangladesh in Global Hunger Index, dropping to 97th position among a group of 118 developing nations.

Dr. Vandana Prasad, a community paediatrician who has worked in the field of malnutrition and child rights, said that India continues to fare poorly in all four key parameters which GHI looks at, whether it be in the area of undernourished population, wasted and stunted kids under the age of five or infant mortality rates.

Prasad said: “India is disinvesting in health and that is impacting the poor adversely. Overall food security is also subject to high levels of inflation.”

Prasad pointed out the example of China where “the lowest quintal (in terms of population) are showing much higher growth rates than those of the rich, but in India, we are facing growing economic inequality between the rich and the poor”.

“With food prices rising rapidly, the poor are subsisting on a diet of carbohydrates and can no longer afford milk-based foods and proteins such as meat and eggs,” Prasad said.

Prasad regretted that the Modi government has persisted in slashing the health budget by Rs.60 billion for the present financial year . “We are spending around 1 per cent of GDP on public health as compared to 3 per cent in China and 8.3 per cent in the United States,” said Prasad.

“The budgets for our ICDS programme and community kitchens have also been slashed while I understand our Anganwadi workers’ salaries are presently pending for several months. The result is that we are now witnessing child nutrition deaths in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Forty-two kids have died of malnutrition in Maharashtra, and Gujarat has also witnessed several deaths. Madhya Pradesh and Odisha also face problems of acute malnutrition in under-five but at least these state governments are making some efforts to improve food intakes for malnourished kids,” Prasad added.

Prasad finds it strange that the Ministry of Health has started a pre-packaged food intervention for poor children.

“This can hardly be expected to improve their condition. Children need to eat freshly prepared and not packaged foods,” said Prasad.

Another nutrition expert, Prof Ritu Priya of Jawaharlal Nehru University, said with the cost of other items, including transport, housing, clothing, education having risen exponentially, the first item families cut down on is spending on food.

Dr. Ritu Priya said, “None of the earlier listed items are luxury goods but their costs have all become exorbitant.”
For the first time, the GHI has looked at issues of child hunger, primarily wasting and stunting.

The International Food Policy Research Institute makes the annual calculation based on data received for 2016.
On the basis of this data, India was found to have 15 per cent of its population being undernourished.

From this base, 15 per cent of under-5 kids are wasted which means they have low weight in relation to their height while 39 per cent are stunted which means that are deficient in height in relation to their age.

Neighbouring nations, including Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and China, are all ranked above India on the hunger index.

India has two of the world’s largest programmes in the world, including ICDS for children under the age of six and the mid-day meal programme for school-going kids up to the age of 14, both of which are also facing major budgetary slashes.

Rashme Sehgal
The writer is a senior journalist