How do Indian states perform as far as hunger eradication is concerned

Using Global Hunger Index methodology to rank India’s states and Union Territories puts Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh at the bottom, while Chandigarh, Sikkim and Puducherry emerge as the top performers

By Nandlal Mishra
Published: Monday 16 October 2023

Despite being a major food producer with extensive food security schemes and the world’s largest public distribution system, India faces significant levels of food insecurity, hunger and child malnutrition. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) of 2022 puts India at the 107th position among 121 countries, ranking it behind Nigeria (103) and Pakistan (99).

While GHI provides a composite measure and tracking of hunger and undernourishment at the national level, leveraging subnational data encompassing the dimensions covered by GHI can enable development of an India-specific hunger index at the level of states and Union Territories. Such an index—a State Hunger Index (SHI)—holds the potential to play a pivotal role in evaluating the extent of undernourishment on a more localised scale. This is an attempt at framing such an index for 2019-20.

GHI is computed using four indicators—prevalence of calorie undernourishment, stunting (low height for age) below the age of five, wasting (low weight for height) below the age of five, and under-five mortality rate. SHI is calculated using the same indicators except for calorie undernourishment (because data is not available for the parameter since 2012), which is replaced by the prevalence of body mass index or BMI (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) undernourishment among the working-age population.

Data for stunting, wasting and mortality among children below the age of five are sourced from the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), while the prevalence of BMI undernourishment is computed using NFHS-5 (2019-21) and Wave I of Longitudinal Ageing Study in India (2017-18). The calculation of SHI score involves combining the normalised values (measurements taken on different scales adjusted to a notionally common one) of the four indicators using techniques recommended by GHI. The SHI scores range between 0 and 100, with higher scores indicating more hunger. On the severity scale, scores below 10 signify low hunger, 10-20 moderate, 20-30 serious, 30-40 alarming, and 50 or above represent extremely alarming scenarios.

*The State Hunger Index scores range between 0 and 100, with higher scores indicating more hunger; # Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu; ^National Capital Territory; Source: As per calculations by the author SHI exposes significant disparities in hunger severity across the country. Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh exhibit the highest scores of 35, placing them in the “Alarming” category (see ‘Nourishment disparity’). Following closely are Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura and Maharashtra, all reporting scores above the national average of 29.7. The performance of these states resembles that of African nations like Haiti, Niger, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

On the other hand, Chandigarh records the lowest score of 12, with Sikkim, Puducherry and Kerala, too, scoring below 16. These states, along with Manipur, Mizoram, Punjab, Delhi, Aruna-chal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar and Tamil Nadu, fall under the “Moderate” hunger category. All other states are categorised as “Serious”, reporting scores below the national average and above 20. None of the states secure a rank under the “Low” hunger category.

Though Gujarat and Kerala had similar gross domestic product per capita in 2020, the former struggles to leverage this advantage in eradicating hunger, while the latter stands out, highlighting its investments in human development. It is worth noting that the impact of COVID-19 on SHI is not captured here.

The full impact of COVID-19 on nutritional outcomes will be known when post-pandemic estimates are available. Back in 2008, researchers Purnima Menon, Anil Deolalikar and Anjor Bhaskar made a comparable effort to grasp the variation in hunger at a subnational level using the then methodology of computing GHI. Among the 17 states they assessed, Punjab led the list as the top performer, with Kerala and Andhra Pradesh following closely. On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh were ran-ked as the least-performing states.

Over the past half a decade, India’s GHI score has deteriorated primarily due to the increasing prevalence of calorie undernourishment and widespread child malnutrition. As per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the proportion of calorie undernourishment in India has been escalating since 2017, reaching 16.3 per cent in 2020, equivalent to the 2009 statistic. The Indian government has continuously disputed these conclusions by raising concerns about the data and methodology used in calculating GHI. However, the government has not been able to provide empirical evidence to support its claims.

The NFHS-5, too, exposes a distressing situation of child malnutrition, indicating that one-third of children under five years are stunted and underweight, while every fifth child suffers from wasting. Notably, no National Sample Survey (NSS) round on nutritional intake has been conducted by the government since 2011-12, which used to offer insights into the prevalence of calorie undernourishment at national and subnational levels. In the 78th round of NSS conducted in 2020-21, four key questions were included to gauge household food insecurity. Unfortunately, information on these four questions is missing from the NSS report, with the explanation that they were intended for internal use.

Nandlal Mishra is a doctoral fellow at International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai

This was first published in the 16-30 September, 2023 print edition of Down To Earth

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.