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regular-article-logo Saturday, 15 June 2024

I am also hungry: Smriti Irani rejects India's poor score on Global Hunger Index

With a score of 28.7, India has a level of hunger categorised as serious. Pakistan, which too has a level of hunger that is serious, has performed a little better than India and is ranked at 102. Bangladesh has performed much better and has a level of hunger that is categorised as moderate

Our Bureau And PTI New Delhi Published 22.10.23, 06:02 AM
Smriti Irani at the Ficci event in Hyderabad on Thursday.

Smriti Irani at the Ficci event in Hyderabad on Thursday. File picture

Union minister Smriti Irani, who heads the women and child development department responsible for the nutrition of children and women in the country, rejected India’s poor score on the Global Hunger Index — 111 out of 125 countries — and then went a step further, joking that she too was hungry.

“I think that they are indices which do not project the India story, and deliberately so. For instance, Global Hunger Index that makes headlines now. Many a people have said it is all hogwash. How do they build that indice? 3,000 people in a country of 140 crore get a phone call from Gallup and they are asked: ‘Are you hungry?’” Irani can be heard saying in a video circulating on social media.

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“Now trust me, I have left my house at Delhi in the morning at 4 today, I caught a flight at 5 to go to Kochi, I did a conclave there, caught a flight at 5 to come to this programme, by the time I get to anything called food, it will be 10’ O Clock. If you’ve called me at any time of the day today from Gallup and asked, ‘Are you hungry’, I’ll say, Oh yes, I am,” the minister says and laughs.

Her audience at the event organised by the Ficci Ladies Organisation at a star hotel in Hyderabad on Thursday laughs out loud with her.

“And that indice says Pakistan is doing better than India. Can you imagine that?” the minister continues. Louder laughter follows.

The Narendra Modi government had already rejected the 2023 Global Hunger Index report when it was released earlier this month, issuing a statement on October 12 that described it as “flawed” and “erroneous”.

Later, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said: “Every country and its people have their own body and genetic structures, which also leads to a difference in how malnutrition is measured. What Europe considers as its parameter for determining malnutrition, it may not be applicable for us.”

“Some company makes its own index and comes up with a list and we believe it. It can’t happen. We are now analysing whether these parameters are applicable for us,” he added, replying to a question from an IIT Guwahati student on India performing poorly on the Global Hunger Index.

The Global Hunger Index is a peer-reviewed annual report, jointly published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and country levels.

According to the report, it uses the following parameters to arrive at its score:

Undernourishment: the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake.

  1. Child stunting: the share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition.
  2. Child wasting: the share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition.
  3. Child mortality: the share of children who die before their fifth birthday, partly reflecting the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments.

According to the report, India has the highest proportion of child wasting in the world — 18.7 per cent.

The report spells out the source of its data: “The following values for the GHI component indicators were used to calculate India’s 2023 GHI score: The prevalence of undernourishment value is 16.6 per cent, as reported in the 2023 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report. The child mortality value is 3.1 per cent, as reported in the United Nations Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation’s (UN IGME) latest report, published in January 2023. The child stunting value is 35.5 per cent, and the child wasting value is 18.7 per cent; these are the values from India’s National Family Health Survey (2019–2021) (NFHS-5) as reported in the Joint Malnutrition Estimates Joint Data Set Including Survey Estimates (2023 edition).”

The report adds: “In the compilation of the stunting and wasting values, we prioritize and use survey estimates that have been vetted for inclusion in the Joint Malnutrition Estimates and/ or the WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, wherever possible. The GHI uses the same data sources for all countries to calculate the respective country scores. This ensures that all the rates used have been produced using comparable methodologies.”

With a score of 28.7, India has a level of hunger categorised as serious.

Pakistan, which too has a level of hunger that is serious, has performed a little better than India and is ranked at 102. Bangladesh has performed much better and has a level of hunger that is categorised as moderate.

The Modi government statement on October 12 dismissing the report had said: “Three out of the four indicators used for calculation of the index are related to the health of children and cannot be representative of the entire population. The fourth and most important indicator ‘Proportion of Undernourished (PoU) population’ is based on an opinion poll conducted on a very small sample size of 3,000.”

The Gallup survey that the minister brought up in Hyderabad to mock the report was an input for one of the parameters — undernourishment of adults and children — and not for the alarming child wasting and child stunting figures that indicate long-term hunger.

DMK MP Kanimozhi on Saturday posted a video of Irani’s comments on X and said it was painful to see the Union minister mock the Global Hunger Index without understanding its implications.

“This raises serious questions about the competency of the BJP government in addressing malnutrition, inadequate food distribution, and child mortality,” the MP said.

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate also posted Irani’s video on X and said: “I don’t know what’s more shameful -- your level of ignorance or your insensitivity at display here?”

Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi shared the video and wrote: “Hardly having time to eat = Hardly having food to eat. If arrogance had a face, it would be Mantriji.”

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