Context: According to the recently released Global Hunger Index 2020, India has the highest prevalence of wasted children under five years in the world, which reflects acute undernutrition.

Key highlights of the report:

  • India ranks 94 out of 107 countries in the Index, lower than her neighbors such as Bangladesh (75) and Pakistan (88).
    • In 2020, India falls in the ‘serious’ category on the Index, with a total score of 27.2.
    • India was ranked 102 among 117 countries in Global Hunger Index (GHI), 2019 report.
  • Poor performance in the region
    • This is a definite improvement from the situation two decades ago, when it scored 38.9 and fell into the ‘alarming’ category. However, its scores are abysmal when compared to its peers in the BRICS countries.
    • In the region of the south, east, and south-eastern Asia, the only countries which fare worse than India are Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, and North Korea.
    • The number of young children in India who are very short and thin, reflecting severe undernutrition, puts it alongside the poorest African nations, with some indicators showing actual declines over the last five years.
  • Child stunting: Although it is still in the poorest category, however, child stunting has actually improved significantly, from 54% in 2000 to less than 35% now. 
  • Child wasting: It has not improved in the last two decades, and is rather worse than it was a decade ago.
  • Child mortality rates: India has improved in both child mortality rates, which are now at 3.7%, and in terms of undernourishment, with about 14% of the total population which gets an insufficient caloric intake.
  • Overall undernourishment: 14% of India’s population does not get enough calories, an improvement from almost 20% in 2005-07.

The worldwide scenario of food security

  • Worldwide nearly 690 million people are undernourished, according to the report, which warns that the COVID-19 pandemic could have affected the progress made on reducing hunger and poverty.
  • SDG Goals progress
    • The world is also not on track to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal — known as Zero Hunger for short — by 2030
    • At the current pace, nearly 37 countries will fail even to reach low hunger, as defined by the Global Hunger Index Severity Scale, by 2030.

Key reasons for India’s poor performance

  • Large existence of small and marginal holdings:
    • The agriculture output from small and marginal holdings are either stagnant or declining due to reasons such as reduced soil fertility, fragmented lands or fluctuating market price of farm produce. 
    • Almost 50 million households in India are dependent on these small and marginal holdings.
    • Though we have surplus food, most small and marginal farming households do not produce enough food grains for their year-round consumption.
  • Seasonal Phenomena
    • Hunger is a seasonal phenomenon in many parts of the country, with families dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, facing lean periods based on the sowing and harvesting cycle.
  •  Declining relative income:
    • The relative income of one section of people has been on the decline. 
    • This has adverse effects on their capacity to buy adequate food, especially when food prices have been on the rise.
  • Unemployment:
    • The kind of work a section of people have been doing are less remunerative or there is less opportunity to get remunerative work.
    • The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2017-18 revealed that rural unemployment stood at a concerning 6.1 per cent, which was the highest since 1972-73.
    • The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 (MGNREGA) MGNREGA too, had been weakened over the years through great delays in payments and non-payments, ridiculously low wages and a reduced scope of employment due to high bureaucratic control.
  • Inefficient PDS system: The public distribution system (PDS) of the state is not functioning well or is not accessible to everyone.
  • Poor state of maternal health:
    • Mothers are too young, too short, too thin and too undernourished themselves, before they get pregnant, during pregnancy, and then after giving birth, during breast-feeding. 
    • It is more than a health issue, there are social factors like early marriage.
    • Few Stats:
      • Almost 42% of adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have a low body mass index (BMI), while 54% have anaemia. 
      • Almost 27% of girls are married before they reach the legal age of 18 years, and 8% of adolescents have begun child bearing in their teens. 
      • Almost half of all women have no access to any sort of contraception. These poor indicators of maternal health have dire consequences for the child’s health as well.
  • Poor sanitation
    • Poor sanitation, leading to diarrhoea, is another major cause of child wasting and stunting. 
    • At the time of the last NFHS, almost 40% of households were still practising open defecation. 
    • Only 36% of households disposed of children’s stools in a safe manner. One in ten children under the age of five suffer from diarrhoea.

Way ahead:

  • Renewed focus on small and marginal holdings:
    • More crops have to be grown, especially by small and marginal farmers with support from the Union government. A renewed focus on small and marginal holdings is imperative.
  • Create provisions to supply cooked nutritious food to the vulnerable section of the society:
    • A model of cheap canteen, which provides cooked food to vulnerable sections of the society for just Rs 15-20, is being successfully run during the coronavirus pandemic in many parts of West Bengal.
    • This has to be done in addition to the existing provisions of healthy diets from Anganwadi and schools through mid-day meals for children, mothers and students.
  • Increase employment and wages
    • The rural employment schemes such as MGNREGA should be given a boost to increase employment and wages. 
    • Several organisations and individuals working under the scheme have suggested that the guaranteed work-days be increased to 200.
    • Aso, commensurate wages need to be given in accordance with the minimum agricultural wages of the states.
  • Improve access to food grains under the PDS
    • The access to food grains under the PDS needs to be streamlined by simplifying technical processes and reducing Aadhaar-related glitches. 
    • This can be the right time to universalise PDS: COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses of the targeted nature of the scheme.
    • The government should also ensure that the ‘One Nation One Ration card’ scheme, if brought into effect, is operationalised  through proper preparations such as proper grain allotments to shops, identification procedures  and proper issuance of  ration cards to individuals seeking food grain. 

“There is no single solution. Every kind of household deprivation that makes life difficult for women needs to be dealt with. The focus needs to be on healthy mothers”

Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report

  • The GHI is an annual peer-reviewed publication by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe. 
  • It aims to track hunger at global, regional, and national levels. 
  • It uses the following four parameters to calculate its scores.


Source: GHI

  • These parameters use information from the World Health Organization, the World Bank and the United Nations, although all these international organizations draw from national data, which, in India’s case, includes the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS)
  • Classification of countries:
    • There is a 100-point scale, with zero meaning no hunger at all. 
    • Countries scoring 9.9 and less are classified as having low severity. 
    • A score between 10 and 19.9 is considered moderate
    • Countries scoring from 20 to 34.9 are serious, and a score of 35 or more is alarming
    • These classifications are comparable over time, but the rankings themselves are not comparable, as the number of countries included in each particular year varies.

Source: GHI