Government has misunderstood ‘undernourishment’, says Welthungerhilfe, which co-published the Global Hunger Index.
German non-profit Welthungerhilfe (WHH) that co-published the Global Hunger Index (GHI) this year rubbished the Government’s allegation on Saturday that its ranking of India as among the 16 worst countries was based on an opinion poll. It also pointed out that the Government was wrong to confuse ‘undernourishment’ with “undernutrition”.
Following the launch of the GHI on Thursday which ranked India 101 of 116 countries, the Government expressed its shock and questioned the ‘unscientific’ methodology used by its two publishers, Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, that relies on a “four-question” opinion poll to calculate one of the four indicators used to arrive at the GHI score. The Government singled out the ‘undernourishment’ indicator, because it was the only one where India’s performance deteriorated relative to previous years — undernourishment prevalence rose from 14% to 15.3% between 2017-2019 and 2018-2020.
“The FAO’s telephone-based opinion indicator — the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) —— is not used in the GHI. The GHI uses the prevalence of undernourishment indicator, which is assessed by FAO using Food Balance Sheet data from each country,” Miriam Wiemers, Advisor Global Hunger Index, told The Hindu in an email.
A comprehensive picture
A Food Balance Sheet presents a comprehensive picture of the pattern of a country’s food supply during a specified reference period. It shows for each food item the sources of supply and its utilisation.
The GHI rankings of one year can’t be compared to those of previous years due to data revisions and changes in methodology.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development on Friday said instead of relying on a poll, the Index should have used measurement of weight and height to calculate the ‘undernourishment’ indicator.
“This represents a misunderstanding of the undernourishment indicator. Undernourishment is a measure of the proportion of the population with inadequate access to calories and is based on data regarding the food supply in the country. It is not a measure of weight and height,” adds Ms. Weimers.
The other three indicators that form the GHI score include wasting (low weight for height), stunting (low height for age) and under-five mortality rate so the Government’s argument that the index should have used weight and height falls flat on its face.
“Stunting and wasting measure undernutrition of the child population, but that is different from the undernourishment indicator,” explains Ms Weimers.
The Government was also wrong to say the performance of four neighbouring countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka — on the undernourishment indicator was shown to have improved. Three of the four countries in fact showed an increase in prevalence of undernourishment between 2017-2019 and 2018-2020 — in Afghanistan it rose from 23.4% to 25.6%, in Nepal from 4.3% to 4.8% and in Sri Lanka from 6% to 6.8%.
This is not the first time the Government has rejected the Global Hunger Index. In March, Minister for Women and Child Development (WCD) Smriti Irani told Parliament that the GHI was flawed.
Complex interactions of various factors
“Two indicators namely stunting and wasting are outcomes of complex interactions of various other factors like sanitation, genetics, environment, and utilisation of food intake apart from hunger… there is hardly any evidence that the fourth indicator namely child mortality is an outcome of hunger,” Ms. Irani said.
The WHH has been in touch with the Indian Government since it raised its concerns earlier this year.
“We have been in contact with the Indian Government in the past explaining the methodology and indicator data. In July, we informed the WCD about the source data for the four indicators that would be used for this year’s report,” the GHI Advisor said.
“The Global Hunger Index is a report that is peer reviewed by external experts. The methodology has long been established and tested. The international community — including India — has agreed upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the GHI uses indicators that are part of the internationally recognised indicator set to measure progress toward the SDGs,” Ms. Weimers told The Hindu.
“The prevalence of undernourishment is recognised as one indicator for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2.1 on ensuring access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all. Reducing child stunting and wasting by 2025 are also recognised as indicators to track progress on SDG 2.2 on ending all forms of malnutrition. Reducing preventable deaths of children under five years of age is listed as SDG 3.2,” Ms .Wiemers said explaining the rationale for using the four indicators.