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India’s hunger levels alarming, says report

Oct 14, 2008

India is home to the world’s largest food insecure population according to the Global Hunger Index 2008 released by Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute in New Delhi today. The study notes high levels of hunger even in economically well-off states of the country attributed to acute child malnutrition.

New Delhi: India appears to have made some progress in tackling the grave issues of hunger and malnutrition, but the situation remains "alarming" in the country on this front, according to a latest report released by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

At an event organised in the Indian capital today, Prof. G. K. Chadha,  a member of PM’s Economic Advisory Council  released the Global Hunger Index (GHI) and the first ever India State Hunger Index (ISHI) 2008.

“Hunger is closely tied to poverty and countries with high levels of hunger are overwhelmingly low or low-middle income countries”

Third year in a row, IFPRI has compiled the hunger index along with Germany-based Welthungerlife and Concern Worldwide. This year the Index is being simultaneously launched in India, Germany and the United States prior to World Food Day i.e. October 16.

“Population, income growth, globalisation, biofuels, high energy prices, climate change are introducing drastic changes to food consumption, production and markets,” notes Joachim von Braun, Director General, IFPRI.

According to the GHI, the hotspots of hunger are sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. India is placed at the 66th spot out of 88 countries surveyed while Congo showed highest hunger rate of 42.7 points placed last in the ladder.

Other countries like Bangladesh scored 25.2 points (70th place), Pakistan 21.7 points (61th), Nepal 20.6 points (57th), Sri Lanka 15 points (39th), and China 7.1 points (15th).

The Index ranks countries on a 100-point scale with zero being the best score (no hunger) and 100 being the worst. In general, a value greater than 10 indicates a serious problem, a value greater than 20 is alarming while a value exceeding 30 is extremely alarming.

“The purpose of compiling these statistics was to enable each country to measure its progress relative to others. Also, we want to learn from successes and failures of policy planning in different regions of the world,” said Ashok Gulati, Director, IFPRI Asia.

“Hunger is closely tied to poverty and countries with high levels of hunger are overwhelmingly low or low-middle income countries,” the report said, adding that hunger rate in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa remain highest since 1990.

In South Asia, the major problem is a high prevalence of underweight in children under five, resulting largely from the lower nutritional and educational status of women and health programmes, inadequate water and sanitation services.

The Indian scenario

The ISHI found that not a single Indian state falls in the ‘low hunger’ or ‘moderate hunger’ categories. While twelve states fall in the ‘alarming’ categories, Madhya Pradesh shows extreme levels of hunger. Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam fall in the serious category.  

However, when compared to the rest of the world, India fairs badly especially with regard to child underweight and child mortality despite years of robust economic growth . In fact, the Index reveals that the country’s rates of child malnutrition are higher than most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Punjab, the best performing state and also known as India’s bread basket ranks below Gabon, Honduras and Vietnam on the GHI.

This new state-focussed index is an important advocacy tool to build awareness of the disparities within India,” said Bernhard Hoeper, Regional Director South Asia, Welthungerhilfe.

“Part of the solution rests with increasing investments in agriculture, poverty reduction programmes and social protection for nutritional improvement”

According to Purnima Menon, IFPRI, “India's hunger rate fell to 23.7 points, from 32.5 points in 1990. But overall a dismal situation prevails throughout the country”.

“Even states with high rates of economic growth in recent years such as Gujarat, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra have shown high levels of hunger,” she added.

“Forty–five percent of the global population falls in the alarming categories as highlighted by the Index. Poverty alleviation is not adequate enough to feed the millions of hungry mouths. What is needed is an inclusive growth and an improved economic access to food and to insulate the poor from market fluctuations”, said Prof. Chadha.

“Part of the solution rests with increasing investments in agriculture, poverty reduction programmes and social protection for nutritional improvement,” Gulati noted.

“We need to build synergies between scientific institution and civil societies to promote research and advocacy work”, said Dr. Iris Schoeninger, Coordinator Policy, Welthungerhilfe.

To substantially improve food security in the 21st century, IFPRI calls for a fair, rule-based global and regional trade regime and expanding humanitarian assistance to food-insecure people.

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