The Global Hunger Report 2023, released by Concern Worldwide and Welt Hunger Hilfe, non-government organisations from Ireland and Germany, respectively, has ranked India at 111 among 125 countries, saying it has the highest child-wasting rate in the world at 18.7%, reflecting acute undernutrition. The country's ranking in the index was 107 out of 121 countries in 2022.
Undernourishment in the country between the age of 0 and 2 stood at 18.3%; 16.2% for age 7-9; 14% for age 14-16; and 16.6% for age 20-22, the GHI data shows. Child wasting among the percentage of children under five stood at 18.7% for children born between 2018 and 2022, while child stunting was recorded at 38.3% and child mortality at 3.1%.
Child wasting is the share of children under the age of five, who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition. In child stunting, children under the age of five have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition. Undernourishment is insufficient caloric intake, while child mortality is the share of children who die before their fifth birthday. It reflects inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.
In a point-by-point rebuttal to the Global Hunger Report 2023, the Centre says it is "an erroneous measure" of hunger and "suffers from serious methodological issues". "Three out of the four indicators used for calculation of the index are related to the health of children and cannot be representative of the entire population. The fourth and most important indicator ‘Proportion of Undernourished (PoU) population’ is based on an opinion poll conducted on a very small sample size of 3000," says the ministry of women and child development in a statement.
Talking about 'The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 (SOFI 2023)' report by FAO, which estimates the proportion of undernourished for India at 16.6%, the ministry of women and child development says it reeks of obvious bias.
"The FAO estimate is based on Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) survey conducted through Gallop World Poll which is an “opinion poll” based on “8 questions” with a sample size of “3000 respondents”. The data collected from a miniscule sample for a country of India’s size through FIES has been used to compute PoU value for India which is not only wrong and unethical, it also reeks of obvious bias."
The Centre says due to these flaws, the FAO was asked not to use such estimates based on FIES survey data. The ministry of statistics and programme implementation has planned a pilot survey on FIES with FAO, the ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare and department of food and public distribution. "The technical group constituted for this purpose has suggested changes in the existing FIES module including questionnaire, sample design and sample size."
Despite the pilot survey being in process, continued use of FAO’s FIES based PoU estimate is "regrettable", the ministry adds.
The Centre says two other indicators -- stunting and wasting -- are the outcomes of complex interactions of various other factors like sanitation, genetics, environment and utilisation of food intake, apart from hunger, which is taken as the "causative/outcome factor" for stunting and wasting in the GHI. In addition to that, it says there is hardly "any evidence that the fourth indicator, namely, child mortality is an outcome of hunger".
Since April 2023, the measurement data of children under 5 years uploaded on the government's 'Poshan Tracker' has consistently increased -- from 6.34 crore in April 2023 to 7.24 crore in September 2023, the government adds. It also says the percentage of child wasting, as seen on the Poshan Tracker, has been consistently below 7.2%, month-on-month, as compared to the value of 18.7% used for child wasting in the Global Hunger Index 2023.
Key organisations like the World Bank and UNICEF have also collaborated closely with the government to support the operationalisation of the 'Poshan Tracker'. The WHO has recognised it as an "exemplary platform" for flawlessly collecting routine administrative data on nutrition, the ministry adds.