For a country that is grappling with the continued surge in Covid-19 cases, deteriorating economy and growing unemployment, this will only add to the all-pervading gloom. India is now ranked 94 among 107 nations in the Global Hunger Index 2020 and is put in the ‘serious’ hunger category. Pakistan and Bangladesh have fared better than India in fighting hunger and malnutrition. Glaring gaps in the implementation of anti-poverty programmes, lack of effective monitoring, multiple agencies working in silos while tackling malnutrition and poor performance by large States are among the factors responsible for the poor ranking. According to the website of the Global Hunger Index that tracks hunger and malnutrition, 14% of India’s population is undernourished while the under-five mortality rate is at 3.7%. The stunting rate and wasting rate— having low weight and low height for their age— for children below five years was found to be 37.4 % and 17.3% respectively, reflecting acute malnutrition. Neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan too are in the ‘serious’ category but ranked higher than India in this year’s hunger index. While Bangladesh is ranked 75, Myanmar and Pakistan are at the 78th and 88th position. Since the national average is affected a lot by large States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, they need to improve their performance to see an overall change in India’s ranking. Every fifth child born in India is in Uttar Pradesh. If there is a high level of malnutrition in a State that has a high population, it contributes a lot to India’s average.
Though India has some of the best designed nutrition programmes on paper, the implementation on the ground has been patchy and inconsistent. Research has shown that the top-down approach, lack of convergence and ineffective monitoring are resulting in poor nutrition indices. There is an urgent need to integrate actions to make public health and nutrition a priority across each sector. Experts have recommended prioritised investments for improving maternal and child nutrition, promoting access to nutritious, safe and affordable diets, scaling up services for early detection and treatment of child wasting and implementation of safe school meals for vulnerable children. It is clear that the benefits of economic growth are not reaching the poor. This can be reversed only if the governments spend more to improve public education, healthcare, nutrition, social security and gender empowerment. For instance, in Nepal, a land-locked country that had alarming hunger levels two decades ago, appropriate interventions to improve children’s health have done a great deal to reduce child mortality and raise children’s nutritional status. The pandemic has further undermined food and nutrition security for many countries and its effects will likely ripple into the future.
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