Unpacking the Dispute Over Hunger in India

The GHI report ignited a fiery response from the government, underscoring the profound significance of the hunger issue in the country’s political landscape.


The Global Hunger Index (GHI) report has sparked a heated controversy, with India’s ranking at 111 out of 125 countries, raising eyebrows. This is especially striking for a nation boasting the world’s fifth-largest economy. In a resounding response, the Indian government has rejected the report, casting doubts on its methodology and intentions. This dispute echoes similar sentiments expressed last year when India was ranked 107th.

In an attempt to shed light on the matter, senior journalist Aman Namra conducted an exclusive interview with Miriam Weimers, a key member of the team responsible for compiling the Global Hunger Index. Miriam, who resides in Germany and serves as a senior policy advisor to the index’s creators, not only rebuffed the government’s objections but also provided insight into the methodology behind GHI. She also offered valuable recommendations for improving India’s GHI score.

Before delving into the interview, let’s take a closer look at the GHI report, the subject of the Indian government’s strong objections.


Every year, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) sheds light on the global hunger and poverty situation. It is a collaborative effort between two renowned NGOs, Germany’s ‘Welt Hunger Hilfe’ and Ireland’s ‘Concern Worldwide,’ aiming to comprehensively assess poverty and hunger across the world. The index’s primary goal is to evaluate these issues on a global scale.

India’s Alarming Ranking:

The latest GHI report, released on October 12, 2023, paints a concerning picture for India. Among 125 nations, India finds itself at the 111th position, firmly placing it among the 34 countries facing a severe hunger crisis. India’s GHI score of 28.7 categorizes it as a nation in a critical state. Notably, the report highlights that a staggering 18.7% of India’s under-five children are classified as underweight or wasted, marking the highest rate in the world.

Indian Government’s Rebuttal:

However, the Indian government vehemently rejected the Global Hunger Index ranking. In a press release on October 12, the Ministry of Women and Child Development dismissed the index as riddled with misinformation. Four key questions were raised concerning the index:

  • Data Representation: The government argued that three out of four GHI metrics are focused on child health. Therefore, the data doesn’t present a comprehensive view of the entire country.
  • Sample Size: The most critical indicator in the report, the proportion of malnourished people, is derived from a relatively small sample of only 3000 individuals in a vast country like India, raising doubts about its accuracy.
  • Complex Indicators: The two primary index indicators, stunting and wasting, encompass various factors, such as hygiene, environment, genetics, and food utilization, making it a complex measure.
  • Lack of Causation Evidence: The government pointed out a lack of conclusive evidence linking the fourth indicator, hunger, to child mortality.

Seeking Clarity:

To address these concerns, we reached out to the GHI team responsible for compiling the report. Comprising independent consultants with diverse expertise in food security, development, economics, and political science, the GHI team is known for its history of addressing hunger and poverty globally. Additionally, each GHI report undergoes scrutiny by independent experts. The methods used to develop the GHI originate from the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn, Germany, and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C. These methods have been revised by food and nutrition security experts in 2015, ensuring robustness and reliability in the assessment process.

  1. India’s ranking on the 2023 Global Hunger Index is 111th, but the Indian government disputes the accuracy of the report, claiming that it misrepresents the country. Could you elaborate on why you believe this report should be considered reliable despite these objections?

Response: The GHI is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at global, regional, and national levels, reflecting multiple dimensions of hunger over time. The Global Hunger Index report is peer reviewed by external experts and the methodology has long been established and tested. 

The GHI incorporates four indicators to reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger. Together, they reflect deficiencies in calories as well as in micronutrients. These indicators are part of the internationally recognized set of indicators designed to measure progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 2 “Zero Hunger,” upon which the international community—including India—agreed. The prevalence of undernourishment is an indicator for SDG 2.1, on ensuring access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food for all. Child stunting and wasting rates are indicators for SDG 2.2, on ending all forms of malnutrition. Reducing child stunting and wasting by 2025 are also internationally agreed World Health Assembly targets. Reducing preventable deaths of children under five years of age is listed as SDG 3.2.

By combining the proportion of undernourished in the population (1/3 of the GHI score) with the indicators relating to children under age five (2/3 of the GHI score), the GHI captures both the food supply situation of the population as a whole and the effects of inadequate nutrition within a particularly vulnerable subset of the population. 

  1. Aside from India, have any other nations among the 125 included in the index expressed concerns or objections about its methodology? Why do you think India has raised such serious objections to this report?

Response: No other governments have expressed concerns or objections to the GHI methodology or results in the 2023 GHI report. In no other situation has there been a sustained rejection of the GHI as has been consistently lodged by the Indian government. However, the sustained interest in India’s GHI score shows how salient the issue of hunger is in India’s political discourse. 

In part the reaction of the Indian government seems to stem from the fact that the Indian government has long sought to eliminate hunger from the country, and successfully eliminated famine decades ago. However, the GHI is a multidimensional measure of hunger and takes into account undernutrition, particularly of children, which is what drives up India’s GHI score. Another issue is that there is ongoing misunderstanding in India regarding an important aspect of the Global Hunger Index- that the GHI rankings from one year’s report cannot be compared to rankings in the reports from other years because every year there is a different set and different number of countries in the ranking based on changing data availability. Also, the data are revised each year and sometimes the methodology is updated. But each year the Indian government and Indian media compare India’s ranking in the latest GHI publication to its ranking in the GHI report from the previous year. There is often a debate about why India has “slipped in the rankings” but as we emphasize repeatedly in the report and online, this is not a valid comparison.             

  1. The Indian government argues that three out of the four indicators in your index primarily pertain to children’s health and don’t represent the entire population adequately. The fourth, and arguably the most important, indicator relies on opinion polls. How would you respond to these criticisms?

Response: Three out of four indicators used in the calculation of the Global Hunger Index relate primarily to children because children are particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. A deficiency of nutrients places them at high risk of physical and mental impairment and death. The most critical time for good nutrition is the 1000-day window from the beginning of the mother’s pregnancy to a child’s second birthday. Child stunting has been shown to be associated with impaired early motor and cognitive development, with potentially life-long consequences for the individual and for society as a whole. Child wasting is the most immediate, visible, and life-threatening form of malnutrition, resulting from the failure to prevent malnutrition among the most vulnerable children. Child mortality reflects that death is the most serious consequence of hunger, and children are the most vulnerable. It also improves the GHI’s ability to reflect deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals. For many children who die from infectious diseases, the indirect cause of death is a weakened immune system due to a lack of dietary energy, vitamins, and minerals. 

Since the first three indicators—the proportion of undernourished and the prevalence of stunting and wasting in children—do not capture premature death as the most tragic consequence of hunger, the under-five mortality rate is also included.

The prevalence of undernourishment indicator is calculated by the experts of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) using several parameters. Prevalence of undernourishment takes into account the average per capita availability of food as obtained through carefully constructed food balance sheets. Food balance sheets are based primarily on data officially reported by the member countries, including India. Prevalence of undernourishment also considers the calorie requirements of the population (based on data on age distribution for males and females, distribution of heights, and other key determinants of dietary energy requirements). Also, prevalence of undernourishment takes into account the distribution of calorie intake in the population as estimated through official consumption surveys conducted by governments. When governments do not provide recent consumption survey data, changes in the distribution of calorie intake in the population are estimated using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) survey data, collected as part of the Gallup World Poll, which has a sample size of 3,000 in India. The latest household consumption survey data that India has released were collected in 2011. The methodology for estimating prevalence of undernourishment is described in FAO’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2023 report (Annex 1B).

Prevalence of undernourishment values calculated in this way are used to measure progress toward the SDGs. Likewise, the GHI uses prevalence of undernourishment values reported by FAO whether or not governments have provided official consumption survey data.

  1. What is the rationale for incorporating child mortality into the calculation of the Global Hunger Index score? Is there empirical evidence linking child mortality to hunger?

Response: Globally, it is estimated that undernutrition is responsible for 45 percent of deaths among children under the age of five (Black et al. 2013). This figure is widely cited, including in UNICEF (2023), WHO (2022) and Ulahannan et al. (2022). In India specifically, the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative Malnutrition Collaborators found that, “Malnutrition was the predominant risk factor for death in children younger than 5 years of age in every state of India in 2017, accounting for 68.2% of the total under-5 deaths,” (Swaminathan et al. 2019). In other words, malnutrition accounts for over two thirds of child deaths in India, exceeding the global average.  

Child mortality is included in the calculation of GHI scores for the following reasons: it reflects that death is the most serious consequence of hunger, and children are the most vulnerable; improves the GHI’s ability to reflect deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals; and complements stunting and wasting, which only partially capture the mortality risk of undernutrition.

  1. What is the primary source of the data you have used for your report? Have you also done a sample survey? If yes then what was its size?

Response: Data used in the calculation of GHI scores come from various UN and other multilateral agencies. 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. The GHI team does not conduct its own surveys, rather the data are compiled from other sources.    

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 percent, as reported in the 2023 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, with data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The child mortality value is 3.1 percent, 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 percent, and the child wasting value is 18.7 percent; 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), published by UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank. 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. 

  1. India boasts a high GDP growth rate and an acclaimed food security program, yet it struggles to alleviate child hunger. How do you explain this apparent contradiction?

Response: In general, GDP growth alone does not automatically translate into improved food and nutrition security in the whole population. Policies need to emphasize pro-poor development and address social and economic inequalities. India has demonstrated significant political will to transform the food and nutrition landscape. Some examples are the National Food Security Act, Poshan Abhiyan (National Nutrition Mission), PM Garib Kalyan Yojna and Antyodaya Ann Yojna. However, there is still room for improvement. India would likely see the greatest improvements in its GHI scores and ranking, as well as in the on-the-ground well-being of its children, by addressing its high rates of child wasting and child stunting. India’s child wasting rate, at 18.7 percent, is the highest of any country in the report, and its child stunting rate, at 35.5 percent, is the 15th-highest in the report. Of course, a decrease in India’s GHI score does not guarantee an improvement in its ranking if other countries reduce their GHI scores by equal or greater amounts. For India to improve in the ranking, it would need to improve more than other countries in the report. It is important to remember that the rankings in GHI reports cannot be validly compared from year to year (see #4).    

  1. Some countries with lower economic resources than India perform better in addressing hunger. What, in your opinion, accounts for this difference in performance?

Response: There is an intergenerational pattern of undernutrition seen in India, so it is really crucial to look at women’s health and nutrition, and women’s equality more broadly. India’s child wasting rate, at 18.7 percent, is the highest of any country in the world. Patterns of wasting among young children of different ages shed light on child wasting in India. The child wasting rate in India is highest at birth and then consistently declines to the age of three, at which point it becomes fairly steady. In contrast, in Africa South of the Sahara, wasting increases between birth and approximately age one, at which point it begins to decline. These patterns suggest that the factors driving India’s high child wasting rate are mothers’ insufficient weight gain during pregnancy and low birth weight among infants.

  1. What are the top four or five immediate measures you recommend for India to take in order to improve its standing on the Global Hunger Index and address child hunger effectively?

Response: Each country faces a unique set of challenges that contributes to hunger and undernutrition. Levels of hunger and undernutrition also vary substantially within countries, including in India, as shown for example by India’s National Family Health Survey (2019–2021) (NFHS-5). 

A substantial body of evidence exists that shows what types of programs and strategies can successfully address hunger and undernutrition. Along with a careful diagnosis of the constraints to food security and an evaluation of the context in a particular area, this literature combined with experience on the ground must help guide the creation of programs that will successfully address food and nutrition insecurity in the future. The types of interventions and the findings mentioned here are just a small sample of the evidence base.

Multifaceted approaches involving government and other stakeholders, most importantly communities, tend to bring positive results. There are several nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific interventions that have proven to contribute to reducing hunger and undernutrition: 

  • Improved access to social safety nets and cash transfers: In India, this would mean particularly improving access to programs such as the Public Distribution Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) and ICDS.  
  • Investments in mother and child health: Particular attention should be given to first 1000 days (from conception to two years of age when the brain, body and immune system grows significantly), improved complementary feeding practices between 6-24 months and improved water, sanitation and hygiene practices. Given the importance of the health of adolescent girls for future generations, nutrition education should focus on them, particularly in vulnerable areas. Participatory learning approaches and campaigns through the last mile functionaries at village level such as Anganwadi workers, Krishi Sakhis, Poshan Sakhis and ANMs have proven successful.
  • Investments in agriculture and a holistic food systems approach, ensuring policy coherence of various government programs, including promoting diversified, nutritious, ecological, and safe food production including nutria-cereals such as millets.
  • Nutrition-sensitive planning processes, e.g. integrating nutrition into the Gram Panchayat Development Planning (GPDP) process, awarding Nutri-smart Panchayats, promoting homestead nutrition gardens.

About The Author:
Aman Namra, a seasoned Development Journalist with a remarkable three-decade career, has made significant contributions in the field. As the Incharge and Resident Editor of the prominent National Development Communication Network “Charkha,” headquartered in Delhi, Aman has played a pivotal role in advancing the organization’s mission. Notably, “Charkha” was established by the renowned social worker Sanjoy Ghose, whose life was tragically cut short by Ulfa Extremists.

Aman’s commitment to fostering knowledge and awareness extends beyond the editorial desk. He has conducted approximately 50 media workshops across multiple states, including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, and Uttar Pradesh. These workshops have engaged journalists, social activists, and thought leaders, reinforcing the importance of Development Journalism.

Recognized as an authority in the field, Aman has been invited to share his insights on Development Journalism at prestigious institutions such as the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Lady Irwin College in Delhi, and Makhan Lal National University in Bhopal. His expertise and experiences are highly regarded in academic circles.

Aman’s influence extends to the realm of the written word. He has penned over 100 articles covering a diverse range of topics, which have been published in various newspapers and magazines. His literary accomplishments include the authorship of two books on traditional water harvesting, both published by esteemed institutions, the National Book Trust and the National Foundation of India in Delhi.

Aman’s commitment to knowledge exchange and cross-border understanding is exemplified by his selection as a South Asia Media Exchange Fellow. During his fellowship, he conducted research in Nepal, focusing on traditional water harvesting and natural foresting systems, thereby contributing to regional knowledge and sustainable practices.

Today, Aman continues to shape the media landscape as the Executive Editor of Digital Media at Dainik Bhaskar, headquartered in Bhopal. His extensive experience and unwavering dedication to Development Journalism continue to leave a lasting impact on the industry.


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