When the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington released the Global Hunger Index (GHI) in October 2008, India’s rank was dismal in 66th position out of 88 countries.

The GHI of India was 23.70, sand witched between 23.53 of Burkina Faso and 23.83 of Zimbabwe, the 65th and 67th rank holders respectively. In fact, India’s performance on hunger elimination during the last 18 years was stated to be ‘lack luster’ by IFPRI, because the index declined only marginally from 32.5 in 1990 to 23.7 in 2008. Except Bangladesh with GHI of 25.7 (rank 70), other neighbouring countries Pakistan 21.7 (61), Nepal 20.57 (57) and Sri Lanka 15.0 (40) were better than India.

That population pressure was not the cause for higher index was proved by highly populated China with GHI of only 7.07 in 15th rank, when compared to India’s 23.7 ranked at 66. South East Asian countries are much better than India with regard to GHI ranks: Malaysia – 10, Thailand – 23, Indonesia – 27, Vietnam – 32 and Philippines – 35.

There is no comparison between India and Ethiopia in terms of geographical area, population, economic growth, but it is most depressing that India, especially one of its States, endowed with all richness both natural and human resources, should get placed along with Ethiopia, a poor Nation with many negative features reflecting on the very existence of people.

Pathetically most Ethiopians have limited resources to reduce poverty, hunger, diseases and are shelter less, while India has absolutely no reason to host nearly 250 million people who do not get square meals each day and go hungry for prolonged period leading to unreported starvation deaths. India boasts of few richest people, according to the USA’s Forbes magazine, in business/corporate sectors, high economic growth, sufficient food production, but ironically abject poverty and acute ‘hunger’ coexists with miserable situation.

With a staggering population profile, Indian States also present a grim scenario of people below poverty line (BPL), with as high as 40% in Orissa, between 32% to 35% in Chattisgarh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. Even Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have population BPL at 25%; other States recorded BPL below 20%, with Punjab being the lowest in BPL of 5.5%.

However, the level of BPL does not always reflect on India State Hunger Index (ISHI). For instance, even though the BPL was the highest recorded (40%) in Orissa the ISHI was only 23.7 (ranked 66, similar to India rank), whereas Madhya Pradesh with 33.5% BPL recorded the highest ISHI of 30.9, the extremely alarming category, hence ranked between Chad (rank 81) and Ethiopia (82). Even the first ranked Punjab within India with ISHI of 13.64 is in fact between Nicaragua (GHI, 12.80) and Ghana (GHI, 13.93) ranked 33 and 34 respectively.

Based on GHI in 88 countries, IFPRI categorized India under ‘serious (HI 10.0 to 19.9) to alarming (20.0 to 29.9) to extremely alarming’ (>30.0) Nations. The implications are clear on the policies to eliminate hunger. Thus, Madhya Pradesh achieved the dubious distinction of being placed under extremely alarming group along with Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger, Burundi, Eritrea and Congo, ranks 82 to 88. Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam come under ‘serious’ hunger group, whereas 12 States namely Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka, Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand with increasing order of ISHI between 20.0 to 29.9 fall under ‘alarming’ hunger group.

According to IFPRI three factors contribute to hunger index, namely proportion of population under nourished (PUN), prevalence of under weight in children under five years age (CUW) and proportion of children dying before the age of five i.e mortality rate (CM). During 2001-2006, PUN was 20% in India as compared to 47% in Zimbabwe and 15% in Burkina Faso, but in child under weight India fared badly with 42.5% as against 35.2% and 14.0% in Burkina Faso and Zimbabwe respectively.

The child mortality was higher in B.faso 20.4% than in Zimbabwe 10.5% and India 7.6%. Thus, Asia’s one of the giant Nations India has to share with relatively small African Nations in view of the factors that reflected on overall GHI. Many Indian States are responsible for this dismal position, the worst being Madhya Pradesh.

What made the State to mimic Ethiopia? Although the PUN (23.4%) and CM (9.4%) in Madhya Pradesh was less than Ethiopia (46.0% and 12.3% respectively), but in terms of under weight children below five years Madhya Pradesh with 59.9% surpassed even Ethiopia’s 34.6%. In fact, Madhya Pradesh is the only place in the entire world with such high percentage of underweight children, the two other States being Jharkhand (57.1%) and Bihar (56.1%). On this account India ranks first with highest underweight children (43.5%), followed by Yemen Republic (41.3%).

If food production of Madhya Pradesh and Ethiopia were to be compared, then the former would be at much higher pedestal than Ethiopia. Then why are the poor children of Madhya Pradesh exposed to acute malnutrition worse than even their counterparts in Ethiopia?

The answer lies not in total food production in the State which is adequate, but in accessibility to the poorest of the poor reflecting on faulty distribution system and total lack of humanitarian concern on food security and child welfare. Affected children deserve not only sympathy but remedial measures to provide robust health. This is the duty of the Governments.

As reported recently in Uttar Pradesh, the life of children below five years in Madhya Pradesh is in extreme danger, as also in other States. The alarming bells have already been rung on the state of the health of the poorest of poor children, but the concerned ministries at the Center and State seem to be so insensitive that the scenario does not show improvement. It is any body’s guess as to how many children are going to lose their lives for the fault of those governing the country.

They have the right to live but not allowed by the cankerous system plaguing the Nation. Ethiopia may be utterly helpless but not India which lacks strong will to make the Nation totally hunger-free. Each child mortality should be viewed as a future asset as youth and Nation builder lost due to ignorance and indifference to the very fundamentals of hunger among the budding children. Extra ordinary steps are needed to rescue India as a whole on hunger front with unprecedented political will.

Dr.V.Rajagopal, Retd Director, CPCRI, (Specialist on drought research), Flat 102, Sri Kataaksham, 18-4-60 Railway colony

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