A report on the Global Hunger Index that was released on October 12 became one of the most talked-about subjects on social media. The report suggested that India has slipped further in hunger index. The statement by the International Food Policy Research Institute, which produced the report, said, “India is ranked 100th out of 119 countries, and has the third-highest score in all of Asia — only Afghanistan and Pakistan are ranked worse.” It further stated, “At 31.4, India’s 2017 GHI (Global Hunger Index) score is at the high end of the ‘serious’ category, and is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of worst performing region on the GHI this year, followed closely by Africa South of the Sahara.” This news was reported by all major mainstream media houses.

While quoting the Business Standard article that has been underlined in the image above, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi took a dig at the government.

Social media was also flooded with posts like the one below comparing India’s GHI rank in previous years and especially 2014 as compared to 2017. The aspect that was particularly highlighted was India’s GHI rank falling from 55 in 2014 to 100 in 2017.

Based on news reports in Times Now and Business Standard which also stated that India’s GHI rank has dropped by 45 places, I posted a tweet tagging Bibek Debroy, the current chairman of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Economic Advisory Council, questioning his stance on the issue since he had tweeted about the Global Hunger Index report in 2013. However, a Twitter handle Nesenag pointed out that the fact about India falling 45 ranks is incorrect.

Based on the Twitter handle Nesenag’s tip, we studied the GHI reports of the years 2013-2017. A plain reading of the reports of these five years would indicate that India’s GHI ranking was 63 for 2013; 55 for 2014; 80 for 2015; 97 for 2016; and 100 for 2017. However, for the years prior to 2016, the reports included an additional table next to the main table that tabulated all countries that had GHI index less than 5. Only those which had a GHI index more than 5 were tabulated in the main table. Lower the GHI index, better is that country performing at feeding its citizens. The image below is the page in 2014 GHI report which shows country-wise rankings and at the bottom left is the table with all the countries with GHI index less than 5.

The GHI reports starting 2016 included the countries with GHI index less than 5 in the main table thus causing a shift in the rankings. The image below is the page in 2017 GHI report which shows country wise rankings. The highlighted portion on the top of the table are the 14 countries which have GHI index less than 5. The countries with GHI greater than 5 are assigned ranks with the base rank being 15.

For the year 2013, the GHI report had a table consisting 42 countries that had a GHI index less than 5, 44 countries in 2014 and 13 countries in 2014. Thus the correct absolute ranking for a country for the years prior to 2015 would be calculated as by adding the rank in the main table and the count of the countries whose GHI is less than 5 in that year. According to the above formula, India’s GHI rank was 105 (63+42) in 2013, 99 (55+44) in 2014 and 93 (80+13) for 2015. The number of countries that were tabulated in these years also varied depending on which country’s data is available. The following tweet by Nesenag details the country rankings from 2011-2017.

Thus, the reports by Times Now and Business Standard that claimed that India’s ranking dropped by 45 places are misleading.

However, one data point that still doesn’t make sense is that the number of countries with GHI less than 5 were 44 in 2014 and changed to 13 in 2015. As we stated earlier, the lower the GHI score, the better fed the citizens of a country are. While the GHI reports consistently claim that world hunger has reduced over the years, what explains the number of countries with GHI under 5 reducing drastically from 2014 to 2015, thus indicating that world hunger has somehow increased. The answer to that lies in this note on the International Food Policy Research Institute website, which states that the formula for GHI was changed in 2015 to reflect the current thinking in nutrition measurement.

We have created graphs based on hunger index scores for 3 years prior to 2015 in which the scores were calculated using the old formula and another graph from 2015-2017 in which hunger index scores are calculated using the new formula. All these values have been picked up from the reports downloadable at the Global Hunger Index website.

A downward trend in hunger index score indicates improvement and the above graphs show that the hunger index score had a slight downward trend from 2012-2014 in line with the global fall in hunger trend. However, from 2015-2017, based on the GHI scores, no improvement seems to have been made by India in giving its citizens two square meals. While India has not fallen 45 places in the Global Hunger Index, our rank continues to be dismal relative to other countries. In 2014, we stood at 99 and in 2017 our rank is 100. What is important is to see what is being done to improve the dismal ranking and score. With various economic indicators having taken a beating in the past year, will India be able to improve upon its Global Hunger Index rank in 2018?

This article first appeared on Alt News.