India and the Global Hunger Index 2020

Context: The Global Hunger Index 2020, a peer-reviewed report released annually by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organisation Welthungerhilfe, has been released.


  • Overall, India ranks 94 out of 107 countries in the Index, lower than neighbours such as Bangladesh (75) and Pakistan (88).
  • 2020 scores reflect data from 2015-19.
  • According to the report, with a score of 27.2 (30.3 in 2019), India has a level of hunger that is “serious”.
  • A low score gets a country a higher ranking and implies a better performance.
  • India’s rank was 102 out of 117 countries last year.
  • In the index, India features behind Nepal (73), Pakistan (88), Bangladesh (75), Indonesia (70) among others.
  • Out of the total 107 countries, only 13 countries fare worse than India including countries like Rwanda (97), Nigeria (98), Afghanistan (99), Liberia (102), Mozambique (103), Chad (107) among others.
  • It uses four parameters to determine its scores. India fares worst in child wasting (low weight for height, reflecting acute undernutrition) and child stunting (low height for age, reflecting chronic undernutrition), which together make up a third of the total score.
  • India has the highest prevalence of wasted children under five years in the world, which reflects acute undernutrition, according to the Global Hunger Index 2020.
  • The situation has worsened in the 2015-19 period, when the prevalence of child wasting was 17.3%, in comparison to 2010-14, when it was 15.1%.
  • Although it is still in the poorest category, however, child stunting has actually improved significantly, from 54% in 2000 to less than 35% now.
  • Child wasting, on the other hand, has not improved in the last two decades and is rather worse than it was a decade ago.
  • India has improved in both child mortality rates, which are now at 3.7%, and in terms of undernourishment, with about 14% of the total population which gets an insufficient caloric intake.
  • In the region of south, east and south-eastern Asia, the only countries which fare worse than India are Timor-Leste, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Pandemic effect

  • The world is not on track to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2)— known as Zero Hunger for short — by 2030.
  • At the current pace, approximately 37 countries will fail even to reach low hunger, as defined by the Global Hunger Index Severity Scale, by 2030.
  • These projections do not account for the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may worsen hunger and undernutrition in the near term and affect countries’ trajectories into the future.

Why is India ranked so low on GHI?

  • So, even though India has improved its score, many others have done more and that explains why despite achieving relatively fast economic growth since 2000, India has not been able to make commensurate strides in reducing hunger.

What are the reasons for which India’s improvements have been slow?

  • For one, notwithstanding the broader improvements, there is one category — Child Wasting, that is, children with low weight for their age — where India has worsened.
  • The situation has worsened in the 2015-19 period, when the prevalence of child wasting was 17.3%, in comparison to 2010-14, when it was 15.1%.
  • Wasting is indicative of acute undernutrition and India is the worst among all countries on this parameter.

Global Hunger Index (GHI)

  • The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and national levels. 
  • The reason for mapping hunger is to ensure that the world achieves “Zero Hunger by 2030” — one of the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the United Nations.
  • While in common parlance hunger is understood in terms of food deprivation, in a formal sense it is calculated by mapping the level of calorie intake.
  • The GHI slots countries on a scale ranging from “low” hunger to “moderate”, “serious”, “alarming”, and “extremely alarming”.
  • India is one of the countries that have “serious” levels of hunger.
  • Countries scoring less than or equal to 9.9 are slotted in the “low” category of hunger, while those scoring between 20 and 34.9 are in the “serious” category and those scoring above 50 are in the “extremely alarming” category.
  • Each country’s data are standardised on a 100-point scale and a final score is calculated after giving 33.33% weight each to components 1 and 4, and giving 16.66% weight each to components 2 and 3.
  • The GHI is designed to:
  1. Raise awareness and understanding of the struggle against hunger;
  2. Provide a means to compare the levels of hunger between countries and regions; and
  3. Call attention to the areas of the world in greatest need of additional resources to eliminate hunger.
  • To capture the multidimensional nature of hunger, GHI scores are based on four indicators:
  1. Undernourishment: the share of the population that is undernourished (that is, whose caloric intake is insufficient);
  2. Child Wasting: the share of children under the age of five who are wasted (that is, who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition);
  3. Child Stunting: the share of children under the age of five who are stunted (that is, who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition); and
  4. Child Mortality: the mortality rate of children under the age of five.
  • The indicators included in the GHI formula reflect caloric deficiencies as well as poor nutrition.
  • The undernourishment indicator captures the nutrition situation of the population as a whole, while the indicators specific to children reflect the nutrition status within a particularly vulnerable subset of the population for whom a lack of dietary energy, protein, and/or micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals) leads to a high risk of illness, poor physical and cognitive development, and death.
  • The inclusion of both child wasting and child stunting allows the GHI to document both acute and chronic undernutrition.

GHI scores are not calculated for certain high-income countries

  • GHI scores are not calculated for some high-income countries where the prevalence of hunger is very low.
  • Even within certain high-income countries, however, hunger and undernutrition are serious concerns for segments of the population.
  • Unfortunately, nationally representative data for three of the four GHI indicators—undernourishment, child stunting, and child wasting—are not regularly collected in most high-income countries.
  • While data on the fourth GHI indicator, child mortality, are usually available for these countries, child mortality does not reflect undernutrition in the high-income countries to the same extent as it does in low- and middle-income countries.
  • For these reasons, GHI scores are not calculated for most high-income countries.
  • In addition, GHI scores are not calculated for certain countries with small populations.

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