INDIA has been ranked 101st out of 116 countries, compared to 94th out of 107 in 2020, in the peer-reviewed annual Global Hunger Index (GHI) report, prepared by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organisation Welthungerhilfe. The level of hunger in the country is alarming, it states, pointing to the devastating impact of the pandemic-related restrictions. Whatever be the reservations over methodology, even a higher rank could not have hidden how child nutrition remains a chronic problem for public administration. Instead of limiting itself to food deprivation, GHI tracks four key parameters which provide a far more comprehensive measure of hunger. India is said to have the highest child-wasting rate worldwide — the percentage of children below five years of age who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition. The other parameters are undernourishment, child-stunting (low height for age, reflecting chronic undernutrition) and child mortality.
Making generalisations about neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan doing better is a futile exercise. India’s circumstances are hugely different, its challenges so much bigger. But then, so are its grand ambitions and its march to greatness, as the leaders do not forget to remind daily. India has to first and foremost contend with itself and confront the truth that the fight against hunger is off track. The food security situation is not an issue, but distribution is, inequity is, choice of meal is, systemic failure is. An acknowledgement of what’s not working despite the best of intentions is the first step to finding better solutions.
Malnourishment in early childhood has long-lasting negative impacts. Child and maternal malnutrition also contribute significantly to the total disease burden. Programmes of the Integrated Child Development Services scheme, which cover pregnant and lactating mothers too, and Poshan Abhiyaan are critical instruments. Any shortcoming or underperformance plays a huge role in slowing down the pace of improvement. The ‘Clean India’ campaign brought in the much-needed construct of hygiene and consequent well-being, but here, too, a forthright assessment of its progress would serve the government and the country better.
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