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The raging hunger in India, a food-surplus nation, has complex factors at play, including pandemic disruption, writes ALI Chougule

Hunger is one of the biggest crises the world faces. According to World Health Organization 2018 estimates, more than 820 million people did not have enough to eat. While the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the crisis of poverty and hunger around the world, in India the situation looks rather grim.

In the recently released Global Hunger Index (GHI), India has dropped seven places, from 94 to 101 in just one year, and lags behind neighbors Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. As expected, in reaction to the drop in the GHI rankings, the Union government said it was “shocking” that India’s rank had been lowered and called the methodology used for the rankings “unscientific”. “.

The government, as usual whenever data comes up to show it in a bad light, said it found the report “devoid of reality and facts on the ground, and suffered from serious methodological problems.” By the way, in 2015 India’s ranking on the World Hunger Index was 55.

Severe hunger level

With a score of 27.5 on a 100-point scale, the level of hunger in India is “severe”. The GHI score is calculated on four indicators – undernourishment, wasting of children (low weight for height), stunting of children (low height for age) and mortality of children under five. years. The trend of these indicators in India is not new and is in fact based on data from the government’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS).

While the GHI report mentions that India has made significant, albeit slow, progress over the past two decades in reducing hunger and malnutrition, hunger in India remains a serious concern, however, with a complex whole. factors involved, including the disruption caused by the pandemic. .

The government’s reaction to the ranking came despite the fact that the partial NFHS Round 5 results released in December 2020 had already drawn attention to the country’s malnutrition crisis based on published data from 17 states and five territories in the country. The union. The data, according to reports, shows that between 2015 and 2019, a large number of states ended up reversing the gains made on infant nutrition metrics. According to Oxfam India, the latest data shows that in several parts of India, children born between 2015 and 2019 are more malnourished than the previous generation.

A combination of factors is forcing an estimated 19 million Indians to go to bed on an empty stomach in a food surplus country. These include poverty, deepening inequalities, rising unemployment, agrarian stress, and glaring leaks and corruption in India’s massive public distribution system.

Future consequences

Rising levels of food insecurity have pernicious long-term effects on the health of children in India. While undernourished mothers are more likely to give birth to stunted or underweight children, adequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life is crucial for the health of the child throughout. throughout his life. Thus, the lack of access to a minimum adequate food has a disproportionate effect on the nutrition of the most vulnerable.

Over the past two decades, India’s food grain production has grown from 198 million tonnes to 269 million tonnes. This should have ensured that everyone has access to food, given that the goal of the 2013 National Food Security Law was to provide food and nutrition to two-thirds of the country at subsidized rates. , covering 75 percent of the rural population and 50 percent of the urban population under its targeted PDS. But many factors contributed to this failure, including fluctuations in market prices, the implementation of PDS laws or the change in the distribution system. This probably explains why India continues to fight hunger.

The availability of food in mandis or markets is not sufficient to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. It needs purchasing power, which has declined dramatically over the past year and a half due to the pandemic-induced loss of livelihoods. It is time we recognized the crisis and worked on it, instead of getting defensive.

The writer is a senior freelance journalist based in Mumbai

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Posted on: Tuesday, October 26, 2021, 2:30 a.m. IST


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