Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday questioned the methodology used to prepare 2021 Global Hunger Index, on which India slipped from the 94th rank to 101st spot in a list of 116 countries.

The Global Hunger Index is a peer-reviewed annual report published jointly by Irish humanitarian agency Concern Worldwide and German non-profit organisation Welthungerhilfe.

The index calculates hunger and malnutrition levels across the world. The score is calculated on four indicators – undernourishment, child wasting (the share of children under the age of five with low weight for their height), child stunting (children under the age of five with low height for their age) and child mortality (the mortality rate of children under the age of five).

In the 2021 Index, India was ranked behind its neighbours Nepal, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

The matter was raised during the question hour in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

Asom Gana Parishad MP Birendra Prasad Baishya expressed concern about India’s ranking on the Global Hunger Index. He asked the Centre how many years it would take for the country’s position to improve.

Irani, while responding to the MP, expressed doubts about the survey.

“The survey was conducted through a telephone call,” she said in Parliament. “One of the questions posed in the telephone conversation was – have you felt hungry when you did not eat food? So, can you imagine that we are talking about a medical and societal challenge that is measured through a Gallup [analytics company] phone call?”

Irani claimed that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on nutrition in India’s neighbouring countries had not been reflected in the Global Hunger Index. “It seems from the report that countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have been unaffected by Covid, which is not true,” she added.

The Union minister said that the government had taken measures to deal with malnutrition.

“We have ensured that the chief medical officer of every district in the country take into account severely acutely malnourished children and children who need medical attention immediately,” she said. “For the first time, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, we have engaged with states to get the precise number of malnourished children.”

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Irani added: “There was a pronouncement years ago in this House [Rajya Sabha] that there were over 8 million [80 lakh] severely acutely malnourished children in the country. However, when states, with medical assistance, undertook a survey, the number reduced to 1.5 million or 15 lakh.”

The minister, in a written response in the Lok Sabha on December 3, had said that the Global Hunger Index was a “flawed measure of hunger” which did not reflect India’s true picture.

“Out of its four indicators, only one indicator, undernourishment, is directly related to hunger,” Irani said. “The two indicators, namely, stunting and wasting are outcomes of complex interactions of various other factors like sanitation, genetics, environment and utilisation of food intake apart from hunger which is taken as the causative/outcome factor for stunting and wasting in the Global Hunger Index.”

Irani claimed that there was hardly any evidence to show that child mortality, the fourth indicator used for the Global Hunger Index, was an outcome of hunger.

The minister also claimed that the Global Hunger Index report relied on data from international agencies that do not update their reports according to the latest figures available in India.

Last month, the central government had raised doubts about the Global Hunger Index, claiming that the score was calculated using unscientific methodology.

However, other studies also paint a grim picture of nutrition and health in India.

The fifth round of the National Family Health Survey, released by the health ministry last month, showed an increase in severe wasting in children under the age of five. Wasting, or low weight compared to height, could be caused by poor nutrition.

The survey also showed that anaemia, or low haemoglobin in blood, rose among men and women in the 15 to 49 age group.

A paper published in September had shown that people across the world are getting taller but the height of Indians is reducing. Height is seen as one of the basic indicators of nutrition.