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INTRODUCTION

Food and good nutrition are basic human needs, the recognition of which is enshrined in the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG), the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. However, developing sound ways to monitor progress towards the eradication of hunger is vital to sustain the salience of hunger in global and national policy discussions. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is one approach to measuring and tracking progress on hunger and enabling widespread discussion about the reasons for, and the consequences of hunger. The GHI was developed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in 2006 (Wiesmann et al. 2006) as a means of capturing three interlinked dimensions of hunger – inadequate consumption, child malnutrition, and child mortality.

Although hunger is most directly manifested in inadequate food intake, over time inadequate food intake and lack of a proper diet, especially in combination with low birth weights and high rates of infections, can result in stunted and underweight children. The most extreme manifestation of continued hunger and malnutrition is mortality. The Global Hunger Index recognizes the interconnectedness of these dimensions, and therefore, captures performance on all three of them in how it is constructed. The index has been an effective advocacy tool which has brought the issue of global and national hunger to the fore in policy debates, especially in developing countries. The ranking of nations on the basis of their index scores has been a powerful tool to help focus attention on hunger, especially for countries like India which underperform on hunger and malnutrition relative to their income levels.

India has consistently ranked poorly on the Global Hunger Index. The Global Hunger Index 2008 (von Grebmer et al. 2008) reveals India’s continued lackluster performance at eradicating hunger; India ranks 66th out of the 88 developing countries and countries in transition for which the index has been calculated. It ranks slightly above Bangladesh and below all other South Asian nations.1 It even ranks below several countries in SubSaharan Africa, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, and even Congo and Sudan. This is in spite of the fact that the level of per capita income in these subSaharan African countries is much lower than that in India. Table 1 below shows how these countries have much lower hunger index scores their lower per capita income levels.

1 India’s slightly better performance relative to Bangladesh is entirely due to better access to food in India relative to Bangladesh, which in turn is a consequence of India’s higher agricultural productivity. On the other two components of the GHI – child underweight and child mortality, India ranks below Bangladesh. Indeed, India’s child underweight rates are among the highest in the world.

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