Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac on Tuesday called for the revamping of the India’s public distribution system as he reacted to the country’s position on the Global Hunger Index 2020.
“We have unprecedented stock food grains but India continue to be at the bottom of Global Hunger Index at 94 with 14% of people undernourished and 37% of children stunted,” Isaac pointed out.
On the Global Hunger Index 2020, India ranked 94 among 107 nations. It was placed in the ‘serious’ hunger category with experts blaming poor implementation processes, lack of effective monitoring, siloed approach in tackling malnutrition and poor performance by large states behind the low ranking. Last year, India’s rank was 102 out of 117 countries.
A recent paper published in the journal Food Policy found that three out of four rural Indians could not afford a nutritious diet. Two out of three would not have the money to pay for the cheapest possible diet that meets the requirements set by the government’s premier nutrition body, even if they spent their entire income on food, the paper said, according to The Hindu.
The paper is authored by International Food Policy Research Institute economist Kalyani Raghunathan and others, and uses the latest available food price and wage information from the National Sample Survey’s 2011 dataset.
According to the paper, 63.3% of the rural population or more than 52 crore Indians would not be able to afford that nutritious meal even if they spent all their income on food.
76% of rural Indians would not be able to afford the recommended diet, if they set aside a third of their income for non-food expenses, The Hindu’s report on the paper said.
This calculation excluded meals for non-earning members of a household, such as children or older adults.
The authors of the paper said that while these numbers were somewhat speculative, it revealed the scale of the dietary affordability problem in rural India.
“Nutritious diets are too expensive, and incomes far too low,” according to the paper.
The Global Hunger Index 2020 had placed the neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan also in the ‘serious’ category but ranked them higher than India. While Bangladesh ranked 75, Myanmar and Pakistan are in the 78th and 88th position.
Nepal in 73rd and Sri Lanka in 64th position are in ‘moderate’ hunger category, the report showed.
According to the report, 14% of India’s population is undernourished, the country had a 37.4% stunting rate among children under five and a wasting rate of 17.3%. The under-five mortality rate stood at 3.7%.
Wasting is children who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition. Stunting is children under the age of five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition.
Data from 1991 through 2014 for Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan showed that stunting is concentrated among children from households facing multiple forms of deprivation, including poor dietary diversity, low levels of maternal education, and household poverty.
During this period, India experienced a decline in under-five mortality, driven largely by a decrease in deaths from birth asphyxia or trauma, neonatal infections, pneumonia, and diarrhoea, the report stated.
Shweta Khandelwal, the head of Nutrition Research and Additional Professor at Public Health Foundation of India, said the country has one of the most impressive portfolios of programmes and policies in nutrition in the books.
“However, the ground realities are quite dismal.”
“Research shows that our top-down approach, poor implementation processes, lack of effective monitoring and siloed approaches in tackling malnutrition (missing convergence) often result in poor nutrition indices. We must integrate actions to make public health and nutrition a priority across each sector,” she told PTI.
Khandelwal suggested five measures to prevent exacerbation of hunger because of the pandemic.
“Safeguard and promote access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets; invest in improving maternal and child nutrition through pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood; re-activate and scale-up services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting; maintain the provision of nutritious and safe school meals for vulnerable children and expand social protection to safeguard access to nutritious diets and essential service,” she said.
She said it is important to aim at curbing multiple forms of malnutrition holistically in a concerted manner rather than single short-sighted fixes.
“Hunger and undernutrition cannot and should not be fixed by mere calorie provision. All stakeholders steered by robust leadership must pay attention to making balanced healthy diets which are climate-friendly, affordable and accessible to all,” she added.
Purnima Menon, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, said the performance of large states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh need to be improved to see an overall change of India’s ranking.
“The national average is affected a lot by the states like UP and Bihar... the states which actually have a combination of high levels of malnutrition and they contribute a lot to the population of the country.
“Every fifth child born in India is in Uttar Pradesh. So if you have a high level of malnutrition in a state that has a high population, it contributes a lot to India’s average. Obviously, then, India’s average will be slow to move,” she told PTI.
(With PTI inputs)