Faring much worse than its neighbours, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar, India ranks 94th on the World Hunger Index for this year. The global index, which calculates the level of malnutritition in over a 100 countries, ranked India much lower than Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (73), Bangladesh (75) and Pakistan (88).
India was ranked only above 13 countries out of a total of 107, including civil war-torn nations and dictatorships like North Korea, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Haiti and Afghanistan. India's hunger level was found to be "serious", with a score of 27.2, according to the report jointly released by Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide on Friday.
A big impact, according to the report, was due to the COVID-19 pandemic that had undermined food and nutrition security for many. The report said the effects of Covid-19 on hunger will likely ripple into the future. The existing report is not reflective of the impact of COVID-19 on hunger and malnutrition, it added.
The Global Hunder Index (GHI) is calculated by using a three-step process -- the indicators used are percentage of population that is undernourished, percentage of children under five years suffering from wasting, stunting, and child mortality.
The India representative of the Right to Food Campaign said the government has failed to address the scale of the problem of malnutrition. "The prevalent development framework is disconnected from the issue of food security. The government should adopt an honest approach towards the issue of malnutrition and hunger in order to tackle the problem. The index clearly shows we have taken a wrong route for development," said Sachin Kumar Jain.
Among 11 countries where the public health significance of child wasting rate was considered "high" or "very high", India was in the very high category at 17.3%.
Arvind Singh, advisor of health and nutrition at NGO Matri Sudha, said, "The cycle of malnutrition becomes irreversible by the age of two years. Malnutrition in this age group is largely the result of inappropriate care, inadequate nutrition, and lack of access to healthcare services during pregnancy. We need to develop a universal framework starting from pre-pregnancy till two years of a baby's birth with major focus on home-based care to fight this."
While there was a decline in under-five mortality, driven by decrease in deaths from birth asphyxia or trauma, neonatal infections, pneumonia and diarrhea, child mortality caused by prematurity and low birthweight increased, particularly in poorer states and rural areas, the report stated, quoting a study.
"Data from 1991 through 2014 for Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan showed stunting is concentrated among children from households facing multiple forms of deprivation, including poor dietary diversity, low levels of maternal education, and household poverty," said the report.
Based on the score, there are five levels of hunger earmarked in the index - low which is till a score of 9.9, moderate with a score between 10.0-19.9, serious when the score is between 20.0 to 34.9, alarming with the score ranging from 35.0 - 49.9, and extremely alarming when the score is above 50.