Dubious distinction: India leads world hunger list

India accounts for the highest estimated number of undernourished people in any single country, with an estimated 194.6 million, or about one in every four such people in the world.

Globally, the number of undernourished people has fallen by 216 million between 1990-92 and 2015, from just over a billion to 795 million. However, India’s contribution to this fall has been small, with its numbers down by just 15.5 million.

In the process, India has overtaken China, which has cut its numbers from 289 million in 1990-92 to 133.8 million in the latest estimates. China’s reduction also ensured that the south-east Asian region contributed most to the decline.

This was revealed in a report, State of Food Security in the World 2015, released by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome on Wednesday. India missed both the millennium development goal as well as the goal laid out at the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996, when governments committed to halving the absolute number of undernourished people by 2015. Of the 172 countries that were being monitored, 29 including Nepal met the WFS goal.

Though India and China contributed to the overall hunger reduction in the developing regions, the highest burden of hunger in absolute terms was found to be in Southern Asia. Estimates for 2014-16 suggested that about 281 million people were undernourished in the region, marking only a slight reduction of 10 million from the number in 1990-92 of 291 million. The slow reduction in India, in particular, had a significant influence on results for the region.

The notable exceptions in the region were Bangladesh and Nepal. Bangladesh has reached the MDG target with the National Food Policy framework adopted in the mid-2000s being given the credit for this achievement. Nepal achieved both MDG as well as WFS target and is inching towards bringing it down to less than 5% of the population. In India, the undernourished constitute just over 15% of the population.

India’s lack of progress has remained a puzzle. Explanations offered for the inconsistency between food consumption and income levels in India ranged from increasing inequalities, to poor data, to the challenges of capturing the changing energy requirements of the population. Calorie consumption being lower than what per capita incomes and poverty rates would suggest remained inexplicable, the report noted.

Source: Times of India