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India Drops To 101 On Global Hunger Index: More Children Malnourished Now Than Before, says Oxfam India

The Global Hunger Index 2021 unfortunately reflects the reality of the country where hunger accentuated since the COVID-19 pandemic, said Oxfam India.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : October 20, 2021 10:24 AM IST

Hunger is one of the biggest problems facing the world today. More than 820 million people (or 1 in 9 people) did not have enough food to eat, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 2018 estimates. Unfortunately, more than 500 million undernourished people live in Asia while Africa has the highest rates of hunger in the world. Zero hunger is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2015. The aim is to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is calculated annually to monitor whether countries are achieving hunger-related sustainable development goals.

In the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021, India ranked 101 out of 116 countries trailing behind neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The country dropped on the hunger-level ranks by seven spots compared to the previous year when it ranked 94 among 107 countries.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 data unfortunately reflects the reality of the country where hunger accentuated since the COVID-19 pandemic, said Oxfam India, a leading NGO working towards ending inequality and poverty in the country.

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Amitabh Behar, CEO, Oxfam India pointed out the trend of undernutrition in India is not new and that it is also reflected in the Indian government's own National Family Health Survey (NHFS) data.

"The data shows that between 2015 and 2019, a large number of Indian states actually ended up reversing the gains made on child nutrition parameters. This loss of nutrition should be of concern because it has intergenerational effects, to put it simply - the latest data shows that in several parts of India, children born between 2015 and 2019 are more malnourished than the previous generation," he said in a statement.

India's POSHAN scheme fails

India launched POSHAN (Prime Minister's Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nourishment scheme) in 2017 to improve nutrition among children, pregnant women and lactating mothers. But Oxfam India highlighted that the scheme has languished "due to poor funding resulting from clever clubbing with other schemes within the health-budget and even worse implementation."

Only 0.57% of the current budget has been allocated toward funding the actual POSHAN scheme and the amount for child nutrition dropped by a whopping 18.5% compared to 2020-21, it stated.

Consequences of malnutrition

According to WHO, children born to impoverished parents are often underweight and are less resistant to disease. Often these children also grow up under conditions that impair their intellectual capacity.

Varna Sri Raman, Lead, Research and Knowledge Building at Oxfam India asserted that there are massive negative consequences to not arresting high levels of malnutrition and in India, both our adult population and our children are at risk.

For instance, he said, the BMI of a quarter of our (teenage and middle aged) women is below the standard global norm, more than half of our women suffer from anaemia, and a quarter of our (teenage and middle-aged) men show signs of iron and calcium deficiencies as per the latest round of NHFS data.

As estimated by independent researchers India loses up to 4% of its gross domestic product and 8% of its productivity due to child malnutrition alone, said Amitabh Behar.

Oxfam India believes that issues of nutrition are intimately tied with issues of public health, food choices, availability, access limited by caste and class, education and more.

"At the centre of India's food security and nutrition crisis is low priority and poor policy that does not look at the long-term consequences of where we are headed. This policy must change right now and we must collectively address one of the biggest challenges facing the country", said Amitabh Behar.

The WHO identifies low income and poverty, war and violent conflict, general lack of freedom, low women's status, and poorly targeted and delivered health and nutrition programmes as factors that contribute to a high global hunger index.

Oxfam India is calling upon the government to start talking about solutions.

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