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Millennium Post

Figuring hunger

Figuring hunger

In a world where extremes assume such large proportions that they seem to have become the new normal, what comes to highlight on the occasion of World Food Day is that hunger and obesity existing together. In spite of significant progress, the number of hungry people remains high at a time when the world is at its wealthiest and when there is more than enough food to feed all. This is also a time when nearly 890 million adults and children are obese and close to one-third of all food produced is simply wasted. Global hunger at large is said to be moving from what is described as 'serious' to now 'moderate'. The progress made to date definitely offers hope for the future but not without some critical understanding of how hunger has managed to be so pervasive despite the prevalence factors that can actually avert it. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations defines hunger as the inability to meet minimum food requirements over a sustained period of time; as per its assessment, hunger has declined by approximately 30 per cent since 2000. Factors that led to this are reductions in four key areas − the actual rate of undernourishment, child stunting (defined as impaired physical and mental growth due to poor nutrition), child wasting (which is thinness as a result of severe weight loss due to acute starvation and/or severe disease), and child mortality. This statistical progress is, in fact, an indicator of what could be done if the right mix of commitment and policy are employed. But, notwithstanding the numerical progress, it is the magnitude and severity of hunger that prevails in the world today, especially in the developing countries. The number of undernourished people rose from 785 million in 2015 to 822 million in 2018. Close to 17.2 per cent of the world population (1.3 billion people) experience food insecurity at 'moderate levels', meaning they do not have regular access to nutritious and sufficient food with. About 151 million children are stunted and 51 million children are wasted worldwide. When this adds to the numbers experiencing 'severe levels of food insecurity', an estimated 26.4 per cent, that is two billion people experience ongoing hunger today. The Sustainable Development Goals agreed to internationally in 2015 is committed both developed and developing countries to achieving zero hunger by 2030. Certainly, the world is a long way away from this goal and should the current patterns and trends continue, it is estimated that 50 countries will fail to achieve 'low hunger' levels by 2030. Most hungry people live in South Asia—especially India—and sub-Saharan Africa.

It is a common social practice in developing countries that the mother is the last person to eat. The widespread adherence to this norm has resulted in more than 120 million women in developing countries to be underweight. Considering that women are normally in charge of their household's food production, this female-hunger is also reflective of gender inequality. Developing countries across Asia and Africa are replete with hungry females despite being in charge of the household's food production. The access to food and water is tilted first towards the men, then the children and last for the mother. Thus is created the vicious cycle of malnutrition with the unhealthy mother bearing and raising unhealthy children. Particularly, with respect to India as it slips to 102nd place and scores lower than Pakistan, Nepal and North Korea on the Global Hunger Index, this rank stands significant as the country has regressed from its 95th rank in 2010 and stands way below its neighbours and BRICS' peers. India trails at a miserable 102nd among 117 countries in the 2019 on this Index. India was the worst performer on account of child wasting, clocking a dismal 20.8 per cent. Among infants aged 6-23 months, just about 9.6 per cent received the 'minimum acceptable diet'. The child stunting rate at 37.9 per cent is termed 'very high'. This annual index calculates the levels of hunger based on four indicators – undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality. Among BRICS countries, Brazil stands at 18, Russia at 22, China at 25, and South Africa at 60. China, is now in the low severity category, while Sri Lanka is within the moderate severity level. Even North Korea was at 92nd. The semblance of a silver lining is that India improved its performance on indicators such as the under-five mortality rate, prevalence of stunting among children and prevalence of undernourishment owing to inadequate food. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) scores countries on a 100-point "severity scale", where zero is the best score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. This is where India stands at 102 out of 117 countries. The GHI is a peer-reviewed annual report, jointly published by Ireland's Concern Worldwide and Germany's Welthungerhilfe. With Pakistan at 94, Bangladesh at 88, and Nepal at 73 in this year's GHI report, the authors say the Index is designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and national levels. India's large population cause an outsized impact on the indicator values for the region. With the combination of indicators to measure hunger several advantages also come. 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, and the indicators specific to children reflect the nutrition status within a particularly vulnerable subset of the population. What now follows is the clear depiction of areas that must be urgently addressed to rectify the situation. The challenge is the effectively implement the solutions that may hence be devised.

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