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Take hunger index ranking seriously

The government’s reaction to the World Hunger Index (WHI) report, released last week, was predictable. The report showed that India ranked 111 on a list of 125 countries, and has the highest child-wasting rate in the world at 18.7 per cent, reflecting undernutrition and malnutrition. As it did last year, when the country’s rank was 107, the government has said the data was inadequate and erroneous and compiled without due diligence. It also said the methodology was wrong, and the report was malafide. This has been the government’s standard response to all surveys and reports which do not show the country in a favourable light. Even if it is accepted that the survey has its limitations, it tells a grim story and its denial is not sincere and bonafide. The world accepts the index as a measure of the relative positions of countries in the matter of hunger, and no country has questioned it the way India has.

The prevalence of hunger and malnutrition on a large scale is confirmed by government statistics. The National Health Family Survey (NHFS) 5 found that 89 per cent of children in the 6-23 month age group do not receive a “minimum acceptable diet’’ and that high rates of anaemia are prevalent among children below six years, adolescent girls and boys, and women between 15 and 49 years, including pregnant ones. Last month’s Poshan Tracker figures revealed that there are over 4.3 million malnourished children in India. According to a NITI Aayog report released in July, a whopping 74 per cent of the people in the country cannot afford healthy food. At the present rate, India is not likely to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger by 2030.

Instead of questioning the data, the government should examine why the highest number of hungry people in the world are Indian and why hunger is increasing. India’s rank was 55 out of 76 countries in 2014 and it ranked above Bangladesh and Pakistan, though it trailed Nepal and Sri Lanka. It has steadily gone down over the years and now is behind all these countries and even sub-Saharan Africa. Rather than deny facts and vilify those who report them, the government should accept the reality and try to tackle it. The National Food Security Act of 2013 made it the state’s responsibility to provide the basic food requirements of every citizen. But many of the schemes intended to end hunger and malnutrition have not reached millions of people.

It is a shame that India, which is among the world’s major exporters of foodgrains, cannot feed its own hungry millions.

(Published 15 October 2023, 19:58 IST)

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