How do Indian states perform as far as hunger eradication is concerned

India is a major producer of food, but despite having the largest public distribution system in the world and extensive food security programs, it faces high levels of food shortages, hunger, and malnutrition among children. India is ranked 107th out of 121 countries in the Global Hunger Index for 2022, behind Nigeria (103) and Pakistan (99).

The GHI is a composite measure of hunger and malnutrition at the national scale. However, by leveraging subnational information that encompasses the dimensions covered in the GHI, it can be possible to develop an India-specific Hunger Index at the state and union territory level. A State Hunger Index (SHI), which is a similar index, could play a crucial role in evaluating undernourishment at a localized scale. This is an attempt to frame such an index for the 2019-20.

GHI is computed using four indicators–prevalence of calorie undernourishment, stunting (low height for age) below the age of five, wasting (low weight for height) below the age of five, and under-five mortality rate. The SHI uses the same indicators, except that calorie undernourishment is no longer available (data for this parameter is only available since 2012). Instead, the hand is replaced with the prevalence of undernutrition based on body mass index (BMI), a measure of fat based on height and weight.

The data for stunting, wasting, and mortality in children under the age of 5 are sourced from the National Family Health Survey 5th round (NFHS-5). Meanwhile, the prevalence of BMI malnutrition is calculated using NFHS-5 2019-21 and Wave 1 of the Longitudinal Ageing Study of India 2017-18. SHI scores are calculated by combining normalized values of the four indicators (measurements on different scales, adjusted to a common scale) using GHI’s recommended techniques. SHI scores can range from 0 to 100. Higher scores indicate more hunger. Scores below 10 indicate low need. Scores between 10 and 20 are moderate. Scores between 20 and 30 are serious. Scores above 50 indicate extremely alarming situations.

SHI reveals significant disparities in the severity of hunger across the country. Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh have the highest scores, 35, which places them in the category of “Alarming.” (See ‘Nourishment Disparity’). Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam are close behind, with scores that exceed the national average score of 29.7. These states’ performance is similar to that of African countries like Haiti, Niger and Liberia.

Chandigarh, Sikkim, Puducherry, and Kerala all scored below 16, while Chandigarh had the lowest score. These states, as well as Manipur Mizoram, Punjab, Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman Nicobar, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi, fall into the “Moderate hunger” category. All other conditions, reporting scores above the national average but below the national median, are classified as “Serious.” No state is ranked in the category of “Low” Hunger.

Gujarat and Kerala both had similar gross national product per capita by 2020. However, the former struggled to use this advantage to eradicate hunger. The latter, however, stands out because of its investments in human development. Note that COVID-19’s impact on SHI has not been captured.

After the pandemic, we will know more about COVID-19’s impact on nutrition. In 2008, Purnima Meon, Anil deolalikar, and Anjor Bhaskar made a similar effort to understand the variation in hunger on a subnational scale using the GHI methodology. Punjab was the best-performing state among the 17 they evaluated, followed by Kerala and Andhra Pradesh. Madhya Pradesh was rated as the worst-performing state, followed by Jharkhand and Bihar.

India’s GHI has declined over the last half-decade primarily because of the rising prevalence of undernutrition and malnutrition in children. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the percentage of undernutrition in India has increased since 2017 and will reach 16.3% in 2020. This is equivalent to the statistic from 2009. The Indian government has consistently disputed these conclusions, raising concerns over the data and methodologies used to calculate GHI. The government has been unable to provide any empirical evidence in support of its claims.

The NFHS-5 also reveals a disturbing situation of malnutrition in children. It shows that a third of all children under the age of five are stunted, and underweight, and every fifth child is wasting. The government has not conducted a National Sample Survey (NSS), which would have provided insight into the prevalence and severity of undernutrition at the national and subnational levels since 2011-12. Four key questions to measure household food security were included in the 78th NSS round conducted in 2020-21. The NSS report does not have any information about these four questions, despite the fact that they were meant for internal use.

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