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EXPLAINED: Why India Has Dismissed 2021 Global Hunger Index Ranking

Mid-day meal being served at a government-run primary school in Bihar's Chapra district (File photo/Reuters)

Mid-day meal being served at a government-run primary school in Bihar's Chapra district (File photo/Reuters)

The Centre has said that the Global Hunger Index report is "shocking" and questioned the methodology employed by the publishers of the annual rankings

India came out strongly against the publishers of the annual Global Hunger Index over the questions of methodology and data sources amid a decline in the country’s ranking, which slid from 94 in 2020 to 101 in 2021, which puts it behind its neighbours Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. While the country has seen consistent improvement in terms of its score, it is reported to have demonstrated mixed performance on the representative indicators. Here’s what you need to know.

Why Has India Objected To The 2021 Ranking?

Taking strong exception to the 2021 report, a statement from the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) said that its publishers “have not done their due diligence before releasing the report".

“It is shocking to find that the Global Hunger Report 2021 has lowered the rank of India on the basis of FAO estimate on proportion of undernourished population, which is found to be devoid of ground reality and facts and suffers from serious methodological issues," the ministry said.

Terming the FAO methodology “unscientific", it said that “the scientific measurement of undernourishment would require measurement of weight and height, whereas the methodology involved here is based on Gallup poll based on pure telephonic estimate of the population".

The ministry further said that the “report completely disregards government’s massive effort to ensure food security of the entire population during the Covid period, verifiable data on which are available". Referring to the FAO report, ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021’, the ministry said it is “noted with surprise… that other four countries of this region — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka — have not been affected at all by Covid-19 pandemic induced loss of job/business and reduction in income levels, rather they have been able to improve their position on the indicator…"

While it was not clear when the GHI 2021 page for India was last updated, the publishers said they had not used FAO’s Gallup telephone-based opinion indicator — the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) — for their report. They also add that “any developments in 2021 are not yet reflected in the latest prevalence of undernourishment data, which covers 2018-2020". So, they pointed out, the “full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will likely only be reflected in the GHI data in the coming years".

The publishers said that while India has made “substantial progress" since 2000, “there are still areas of concern, particularly regarding child nutrition". Noting that India’s GHI performance has improved — as reflected in a decrease in its GHI score from 38.8 points in 2000, which put the country in the ‘alarming’ zone to 27.5 in 2021, considered ‘serious’ — the publishers said that “the proportion of undernourished in the population and the under-five child mortality rate are now at relatively low levels".

In fact, the indicator values on child wasting and stunting both saw a rise, while those for undernourishment and under-5 mortality registered declines. The publishers said that while child stunting has seen a significant decrease — from 54.2 per cent in 1998–1999 to 34.7 per cent in 2016–2018 — it is “still considered very high".

As to child wasting, the report said that, at 17.3 per cent, the rate is slightly higher than what it was in 1998–1999, when it was 17.1 per cent, adding that “India has the highest child wasting rate of all countries covered in the GHI".

What Is The Global Hunger Index?

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is published annually as part of a partnership between Concern Worldwide, Ireland’s largest aid and humanitarian agency that says it is “dedicated to tackling poverty and suffering in the world’s poorest countries", and Welthungerhilfe, which describes itself as “one of the largest private aid organisations in Germany, independent of politics and religion".

The publishers say that the first GHI report was published in 2006 and that it is intended to be “a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at global, regional, and national levels".

The publishers say that the GHI assesses a country’s performance on four component indicators, which reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger — undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality — to compile a score that gives an indication as to deficiencies in calories as well as in micronutrients.

A three-step process based on standardisation of scores on each of the indicators and their aggregation yields a country’s GHI score on a 100-point ‘GHI Severity Scale’, where 0 is the best score and 100 is the worst.

What Are The Data Sources Used For The Index?

The publishers said the data and estimates for the four GHI components is taken from the United Nations and other multilateral agencies and that the same data sources are used for all countries to ensure uniformity of methodology and comparability.

For undernourishment, the values are from the 2021 edition of the FAO Food Security Indicators, the publishers said, adding that GHI uses the prevalence of undernourishment indicator assessed by FAO using Food Balance Sheet data from each country. “It measures the proportion of the population with inadequate access to calories and is based on data regarding the food supply in the country," they said.

For child stunting and wasting, the data are from the 2021 edition of UNICEF, WHO, and World Bank Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates with the publishers saying they also included data from India’s Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016–2018 National Report published in 2019.

The under-five mortality rate data was obtained from the 2020 edition of the UN IGME (Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation) Child Mortality Estimates published in September 2020.

But on the comparability of GHI reports, the publishers said that while GHI scores are comparable within each year’s report, they cannot be compared between different years’ reports. It has been pointed out that it is so because of revisions of the source data and methodology.

“Comparing scores between reports may create the impression that hunger has changed positively or negatively in a specific country from year to year, whereas in some cases the change may be partly or fully a reflection of a data revision," the publishers said, adding that “the methodology for calculating GHI scores has been revised in the past and may be revised again in the future".

Further, just like the GHI scores and indicator values, the publishers said that “the rankings from one year’s report cannot be compared to those from another" as different countries are included in the ranking every year.

“If a country’s ranking changes from one year to the next, it may be in part because it is being compared to a different group of countries," they said.

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first published:October 17, 2021, 17:49 IST