India ranked 107 out of 121 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2022 with its child wasting rate at 19.3 per cent, being the highest in the world. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool for comprehensively measuring and tracking hunger at global, regional, and national levels.
With a score of 29.1, the level of hunger in India has been labelled “serious”. In Asia, Afghanistan with a rank of 109 is the only country behind India.
Neighbouring countries – Pakistan (99), Bangladesh (84), Nepal (81) and Sri Lanka (64) have all fared better than India. In 2021, India ranked 101 out of 116 countries while in 2020 the country was placed at 94th position.
South Asia, the region with the world’s highest hunger level, has the highest child stunting rate and by far the highest child wasting rate in the world, the report said.
“India’s child wasting rate, at 19.3 per cent, is the highest of any country in the world and drives up the region’s average owing to India’s large population,” it said.
Child wasting refers to condition where a child is too thin for his or her height and is the result of recent rapid weight loss or the failure to gain weight. A child who is moderately or severely wasted has an increased risk of death, but treatment is possible. Wasting is sometimes referred to as “acute malnutrition” because it is believed that episodes of wasting have a short duration, in contrast to stunting, which is regarded as chronic malnutrition.
India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan each have child stunting rates between 35 and 38 per cent, with Afghanistan’s rate being the highest in the region.
Undernourishment prevalence rose in India from 14.6 per cent in 2018-2020 to 16.3 per cent in 2019-2021. This translates into 224.3 million people in India being undernourished out of the total 828 million people globally.
Child wasting, which is a strong predictor of mortality among children under five years of age, also worsened from 15.1 per cent in 2012-16 to 19.3 per cent in 2017-21.
India, however, noted improvement in two parameters of child stunting from 38.7 per cent in 2012-16 to 35.5 per cent in 2017-21 and child mortality from 4.6 per cent in 2014 to 3.3 per cent in 2020.
The GHI said stunting disparities between districts were particularly pronounced in India.
“The example of India shows the importance of considering the subnational context when designing programs and policies to target child stunting. Researchers investigated the factors that contributed to a decline in stunting in four Indian states between 2006 and 2016: Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu,” it said.
The report said the researchers found that stunting fell mainly in response to improvements in the coverage of health and nutrition interventions, household conditions (such as socioeconomic status and food security), and maternal factors (such as mothers’ health and education).
“While improvements in household conditions were the most important factor for each of the four states, the second most important factor varies by state. As the authors conclude, this variability across states indicates the need for contextualized policy and programmatic initiatives to help focus the efforts in the sectors that need the most attention for continued decline in stunting,” it said.
The GHI said the world is facing a serious setback in efforts to end hunger; conflict, the climate crisis and the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded by the war in Ukraine are major drivers of hunger.
The report warned that the situation is expected to deteriorate further as global crises overlap.
“Possible solutions and the scale of investment required are known and quantified. Rather, the problem lies in policy implementation and the lack of political will in the world,” it said.
Activists and politicians have hit out at the government for India’s ranking. Sitaram Yechury, Secretary-General of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the government must take responsibility for this era of darkness India has been brought to in 8.5 years.
“Dangerous, sharp slide of India on global hunger index since 2014. Modi govt is disastrous for India. Low food stocks barely over minimum buffer plus rising prices. Government must take responsibility for this era of darkness India has been brought to in 8.5 years. Enough of PR, spin & lies,” Yechury tweeted.
Congress leader P Chidambaram said, “When will the honourable PM address real issues like malnutrition, hunger, and stunting and wasting among children? 22.4 crore people in India are considered undernourished.”
“Our score has worsened since 2014 in the 8 years of the Modi government 16.3 per cent of all Indians are undernourished, meaning they do not get enough food,” he said in another tweet. “19.3 per cent of children are wasted, 35.5 per cent of children are stunted… Hindutva, imposing Hindi and spreading Hate are not the antidote to Hunger,” the former union minister tweeted.