Former NDTV journalist and advisor to Manmohan Singh lies about India’s rank in Hunger Index

On October 14, GoNews24x7 tweeted that India’s hunger index is extremely alarming with a rank of 103 among 119 nations. It also posted an infographic which shows that India’s rank has declined substantially in the last five years, from a rank of 55 in 2014. GoNews24x7 is founded by Pankaj Pachauri, who was a journalist with NDTV and then became media advisor of former PM Manmohan Singh.

The same was tweeted by Pankaj Pachauri also, highlighting the rankings for 2014 and 2018, and also mentioning the publicity spend of government in those two years. Thereby insinuating that India’s performance in hunger has declined sharply while the government is more focused on publicity.

Although the current rank of India in the global hunger index is correct, what is depicted by the year wise ranking data is misleading. The annual ranks mentioned creates the impression that India’s ranking was much better earlier and it is on a rapid decline since the Modi government came to power.

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But that is not true. The steep decline is the result of a change in methodology adopted by IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute), the organisation that calculates the index. Till the year 2014, the institute did not include any country with low hunger levels in the report, and in 2014 there were 44 such countries. All these 44 countries were ranked above India. And if these countries were included in the rankings, India’s 2014 ranking would have been 99, instead of 55. This means that India’s index has remained largely the same over the last five years, with minor variations.

The same allegation that India’s rank has declined steeply was made last year also, and responding to queries, IFPRI had informed via email that change in ranking is due to change in method as now all countries are ranked, including those which were excluded earlier.

The email had also informed that Despite low rankings, India has done well in reducing hunger, and since 2000 the country had reduced its hunger index by 20%. IFPRI had noted that although India has a lot to do to reduce its hunger levels, claiming that its index has fallen by such huge extent is misleading and not true.

Although the Global Hunger Index is an important parameter in measuring the progress of a nation, it is not without some inherent flaws. The index is calculated based on four parameters, percentage of the undernourished population, the percentage of children who die before the age of five, percentage children under five with a low weight-for-height ratio, percentage children under five with a low height-for-age ratio.

While the first two parameters can’t be questioned, the same can’t be said about the other two. As economist Arvind Panagariya has noted, the methodology clubs height and weight of all children in the world together and that is taken as a basis for the index. But that is the wrong approach. The reason for low height or low weight for a child may not be malnutrition, but it may be heredity or genetics also.

People in different places in the world have different average height and weight, so what is under-weight in one region may be perfectly healthy in another. Panagariya has argued that if appropriate corrections are applied to the index, India will rank much ahead of sub-Saharan countries, which are currently ranked ahead of India. Because average height and weight are higher in those countries, even when other parameters like infant mortality and maternal mortality are much worse than India for them.


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