India’s Shameful Global Showing on Hunger

The Global Hunger Index 2012 has once again highlighted the shameful and glaring contrast between India’s high growth and steep levels of hunger and malnutrition, especially of women and children. India’s performance is even worse than that of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. And when it comes to underweight children, India is worst among 129 countries, second only to the war-torn Timor-Leste. India’s GHI score is the result of the skewed priorities of the Manmohan Singh Government – which has chosen the path of corporate appeasement rather than ensuring nutrition for the common people, and which has imposed economic policies which have further impoverished and disempowered women. Below are excerpts from the GHI 2012 Report.

“India has lagged behind in improving its GHI score despite strong economic growth. After a small increase between 1996 and 2001, India’s GHI score fell only slightly, and the latest GHI returned to about the 1996 level, as the above graph shows. This stagnation in GHI scores occurred during a period when India’s gross national income (GNI) per capita almost doubled, rising from about 1,460 to 2,850 constant 2005 international dollars between 1995–97 and 2008–10 (World Bank 2012).

“When comparing GHI scores with GNI per capita, it must be emphasized that India’s latest GHI score is based partly on outdated data: although it includes relatively recent child mortality data from 2010, FAO’s most recent data on undernourishment are for 2006–08, and India’s latest available nationally representative data on child underweight were collected in 2005–06. Given that the Government of India has failed to monitor national trends in child undernutrition for more than six years, any recent progress in the fight against child undernutrition cannot be taken into account by the 2012 GHI.

“Nonetheless, even bearing in mind that possible recent advances in the fight against child undernutrition are not yet visible in the latest GHI, India’s track record is disappointing. Generally, higher incomes are associated with less hunger....

“Between 1990 and 1996, India’s trend line moved in parallel with the predicted line, indicating that its GHI score was falling commensurate with economic growth. After 1996, however, the disparity between economic development and progress in the fight against hunger widened, and India moved further away from the predicted line.

“In two other South Asian countries—Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—GHI scores were also higher than expected but decreased almost proportionally with GNI per capita growth.... China has lower GHI scores than predicted from its level of economic development. It lowered its levels of hunger and undernutrition through a strong commitment to poverty reduction, nutrition and health interventions, and improved access to safe water, sanitation, and education. Brazil successfully implemented targeted social programs (von Braun, Ruel, and Gulati 2008). Since 1992, Mozambique has been recovering from a long-lasting civil war and has witnessed economic growth and poverty reduction (van den Boom 2011), coupled with hunger reduction: all three components of the GHI improved since 1990....

“In India, 43.5 percent of children under five are underweight (WHO 2012, based on the 2005–06 National Family Health Survey [IIPS and Macro International 2007]): this rate accounts for almost two-thirds of the country’s alarmingly high GHI score. According to the latest data on child undernutrition, from 2005–10, India ranked second to last on child underweight out of 129 countries— below Ethiopia, Niger, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

“Only Timor-Leste had a higher rate of underweight children. By comparison, only 23 percent of children are underweight in Sub-Saharan Africa (although India has a lower proportion of undernourished in the population than Sub-Saharan Africa2). It must be emphasized that child undernutrition is not simply the outcome of a lack of food in the household. There are many other potential causes, such as lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the diet, improper caring and feeding practices, or frequent infections, which often result from inadequate health services or unsanitary environments.

“Women’s low status in India and other parts of South Asia contributes to children’s poor nutritional outcomes in the region because children’s development and mothers’ well-being are closely linked: women’s poor nutritional status, low education, and low social status undermine their ability to give birth to well-nourished babies and to adequately feed and care for their children (von Grebmer et al. 2010). According to surveys during 2000–06, 36 percent of Indian women of childbearing age were underweight, compared with only 16 percent in 23 Sub-Saharan African countries (Deaton and Drèze 2009).

“... Bangladesh, India, and Timor-Leste have the highest prevalence of underweight in children under five— more than 40 percent in all three countries.”

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