Understanding the Global Hunger Index and the government’s response to it
The came out in October. India was ranked 101st on a list of 116 low- and middle-income countries.
The Modi government quickly rejected the report and. This article attempts to unpack the GHI report, the government’s response and the larger problem of hunger in India.
So what is the Global Hunger Index? Its website describes it as an “annual peer-reviewed report, jointly published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungehilfe, designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at global, regional and national levels. The goal of the GHI is to trigger actions to reduce hunger in the world.
An obvious question to ask is: how can we quantify hunger in a population? After all, only then can one perform an exercise of ranking, of comparisons between countries, etc.
The World Health Index divides hunger into three dimensions.
1): This component captures the hunger situation of the population as a whole and is defined as the consumption of too few calories compared to the dietary needs of an individual taking into account their age, sex, stature and of his physical activity. It measures the insufficient food supply, an important indicator of hunger.
2): Children are particularly vulnerable to undernutrition. In children under five, chronic undernutrition leads to stunting (low height for their age) and acute undernutrition leads to wasting (low weight for height). Wasting and stunting can be measured objectively and are therefore reliable indicators of the nutritional availability of a population.
3): An extreme consequence of childhood malnutrition is death. While this is not the only cause, suggest that up to 45 percent of deaths under age five can be attributed to inadequate nutrition.
The report indicates that there are several advantages to using this combination of indicators:
“The indicators included in the GHI formula reflect calorie deficiencies as well as poor nutrition. The undernourishment indicator (also called undernutrition) captures the hunger situation in the entire population, while child-specific indicators reflect the nutritional status of a particularly vulnerable subset of the population. population for which a lack of dietary energy, protein, and / or micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals) results in a high risk of disease, poor physical and cognitive development and death. The inclusion of both wasting and stunting in children allows the GHI to document acute and chronic undernutrition. By combining several indicators, the index minimizes the effects of random measurement errors.
Closely linked to the dimensions of hunger described above, each country obtains a GHI score which is calculated using four components.
1) Data on undernourishment provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This represents a third of each country’s score. As we will see later in this article, this component’s methodology for GHI 2021 scores has drawn strong criticism from the Indian government.
2) Data on child wasting taken from multilateral agencies such as Unicef and the World Health Organization. This represents a sixth of each country’s score.
3) Data on stunting in children from multilateral agencies such as Unicef and WHO. This represents a sixth of each country’s score.
4) Infant mortality data from the United Nations Interagency Group on Child Mortality Estimation, or UN IGME. This represents a third of each country’s score.
There are a few technical things to keep in mind, about how the annual GHI scores are calculated for each country.
First, the data for the four components listed above is not limited to the previous year. Instead, the numbers for each component are collected over different time windows. For 2021, data on undernutrition is for 2018-2020, data on wasting and stunting in children is for 2016-2020 and data on infant mortality is for 2019.
Second, each of the four constituent indicators is normalized to thresholds set slightly above the highest national values observed in the world for that indicator. since 1988. For example, if the highest value of estimated undernourishment over this period is 76.5%, the normalization threshold is set a little higher, at 80%. Then, if in a given year a country has a prevalence of undernourishment of 40 percent, its standardized undernourishment score for that year is 50 (40/80 × 100).
In other words, this country is more or less halfway between the absence of undernourishment and the attainment of the maximum levels observed. It follows that a lower score indicates higher levels of food security in a country.
Third, a country’s absolute GHI scores cannot be compared to past GHI scores, as methodologies have evolved over the years. Thus, one should not draw any conclusions by looking at the trend line of India’s composite GHI score over a period of time. But to help track a country’s GHI performance over time, each year’s GHI report includes scores to compare scores for the past three years. Thus, the 2021 report has indicator scores for 2000, 2006 and 2012, which can be compared to the GHI 2021 scores.
With this understanding of GHI scores, we can now decode what the 2021 GHI report tells us about hunger in India.
But before that, it may help to think about the more important point behind this annual ranking exercise. It can be argued that human development parameters like hunger should not be weighed against how other countries are doing. After all, what should matter is that fewer Indians go hungry in 2021 compared to previous years. Whether this number is higher or lower than the number of food insecure people in other countries does not matter.
Therefore, the main utility of the GHI report is that it sheds light on an important existential problem. Instead of getting lost in rankings, policymakers and advocates should use the GHI report to assess food security in their country and the effectiveness of measures put in place to address it.
With that caveat, let’s take a look at how India has ranked in the GHI rankings in recent years. Table 1 shows India’s GHI score over the past five years.