How credible is the Global Hunger Report?

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How credible is the Global Hunger Report?

Wednesday, 01 November 2023 | Ashwani Mahajan

How credible is the Global Hunger Report?

Once again India is ranked rather low in the Global Hunger Report, but how credible are the criteria and methods employed in evaluation?

Like previous years, once again a German organisation named Welt Hungerhilfe has released its 'Hunger Index' and the hunger ranking of the countries of the world based on the same, in their so-called Global Hunger Report 2023. In this ranking, India has once again been placed very low at 111th position. It is noteworthy that this year 125 countries have been included in this ranking. Last year in 2022, India was ranked 107th in the list of 121 countries and 2021, India was ranked 101st in the ranking of 116 countries.

What they mean by this hunger index is that not only, there is a huge problem of hunger prevalent in India, but the performance of other countries is far better than India. If we believe the report, the performance of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka etc., which are dependent on food supplies from India, is much better than India. In such a situation, it is natural to raise questions on this report. Let us try to understand the reality of hunger and its indices in India.

What is Welt Hungerhilfe's Hunger Index?

There are 4 parameters to measure this Hunger Index - malnutrition, stunting in children, underweight in children, wasting (low weight for height) and child mortality (mortality rate in children under 5 years of age). The hunger index based on all these parameters is estimated. Welt Hungerhilfe says that in India this index is 28.7, which is considered very serious, whereas in Pakistan it is 26.6, due to which Pakistan is ranked at 102nd position, which is above India. Similarly, Bangladesh is ranked at 81st position with 19.0 points and Sri Lanka is ranked at 60th position with 13.3 points.

If we see the parameters and scales used in constructing this Hunger Index, there are question marks on the data on one hand and the methodology on the other. Not only the Indian government, but many other experts have summarily rejected this report.

Child Mortality

According to of Welt Hungerhilfe’s methodology, child mortality has been a major determinant of the hunger index. While estimating, the hunger index for the year 2023, surprisingly the child mortality rate data of 2020-21 has been taken. The report puts India's child mortality rate at 31 per thousand.

According to the data published by the Sample Registration System of India, the child mortality rate decreased from 35 per thousand in 2019 to 32 per thousand in the year 2020. If this rate of decline in child mortality is considered, then it is expected to reach 24.4 by the year 2023. In such a situation, there is no reason why the outdated data on the child mortality rate in India should be taken at 31 per thousand, to estimate the hunger index in India in 2023. According to the latest data, the infant mortality rate in Pakistan is 55.8 per thousand and the child mortality rate is higher than that. Despite this, India is placed at 111th position in terms of hunger and Pakistan is shown at 102nd position. The reason for this is that wrong data has been used in other scales of the hunger index too.

There are some errors in the data of other international agencies as well. While figures published by the Indian government were showing the infant mortality rate at 28 per thousand in 2020, international agencies are putting it at 29.848. It is noteworthy that it’s not ethical or even legitimate to use any data other than the official data, by any foreign or Indian agency. But this World Hunger Report openly says that the data reported by the governments to the United Nations don't need to only be used in this report. The rapidly improving conditions in India may not be pleasing to the organisations working with their malafide intentions.


As far as data on malnutrition is concerned, Welt Hungerhilfe does not have any factual data, as the household consumption survey by the concerned official agency has not been conducted since 2011. Therefore, malnutrition figures have been prepared based on a 'Gallup Survey' with a sample of 3000 people, the methodology of which is also questionable, which shows malnutrition at 16.6 per cent. It is worth noting that in reality, based on real-time health data of more than 7 crore children, the Poshan Tracker, published that only 7.7 per cent of children in the country were malnourished in February 2023. If we talk about production and availability of food, India ranks 35th in the world in the latest global ranking (2020) of 188 countries. The continuously increasing per capita production of food grains, milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables, fish etc. confirms that India is today producing surplus food, compared to demand.

Stunting and Wasting

Till recently, data on stunting and wasting assessed by only the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) was available in the country. However, due to the small sample size, the NFHS data was often questioned. Notably, a comprehensive nutrition campaign has been launched by the Ministry of Women and Children, Government of India, to tackle the problem of malnutrition in the country. While NFHS used to draw conclusions based on a relatively small sample, Poshan Tracker is publishing figures based on real-time data from more than 7 crore children, with wasting data consistently showing that only 7.2% of India's children were wasted, whereas Welt Hungerhilfe's Hunger Report (2023) used the wasting figure of NFHS 2019-21, that is, 18.7 per cent.

As far as stunting is concerned, experts believe that there cannot be a single standard of height for the entire country. Not only stunting but wasting depends on many factors including geography, environment and genetics, apart from nutrition. If we see, the height of Punjabi children is several inches more than the children of the North-East. The World Health Organisation has also accepted this.

Not only this, the Indian Government's Nutrition Campaign (Poshan Abhiyan) is working hard to address the problem of malnutrition in the country, and assessing the outcome periodically, recognising the same, and the World Health Organisation has also started using the data published by Poshan Tracker. Though there are many objections to the methodology of the Welt Hungerhilfe report, even if the formula used by the agency is followed, to calculate the hunger index, and if the correct data is fed i.e. child mortality rate (under 5 mortality rate) of 24.4 per thousand; if wasting and undernourishment are considered to be 7.2 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively (assuming other age groups too have similar nutrition outcome), as per the data collected by Poshan Tracker, and if stunting figures are discarded since they are not comparable, then hunger index estimated by the author of this article, comes out to be 9.528. Accordingly, as per the formula of Welt Hungerhilfe, India's ranking in the hunger index is not 111th but 48th.

It is natural that after the report of Welt Hungerhilfe, has been published, many opposition political parties have made hunger, an issue, based on this report. In such a situation, it is clear that this agency has consistently been trying to defame India by using questionable data and methodology, which is far from the reality. Strict action should be taken against all such agencies trying to defame India.

(The author is a Professor, at PGDAV College, University of Delhi)

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