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How Credible is 2022 World Hunger Report on India!
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) annual report for 2022 released about a week back has reflected India poorly almost at the bottom of the list so prepared with a ranking of 107 in a list of 121 countries. The report is annually published by two Western NGOs, namely the ‘Concern Worldwide’ and ‘Welt Hunger Hilfe’.
As it happens most of the time since the present National Government came in power in 2014, whenever any adverse reporting is made about India by the dominant Western media, Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), or any official International Organization, the leaders of opposition parties immediately jump into fray to encash it in own favour through criticism and barrage of questions on the efficiency and efficacy of the leadership even without bothering to check for facts. It is beyond question that India is still a developing country with a considerable chunk of people still living under poverty and other hardships. However, even a bird’s-eye view reveals the fact that the GHI has exaggerated the measure of hunge, it lacks statistical vigour and has problems on multiple counts.
As if waiting for this opportunity, the opposition parties have spared no time to criticize and demand the central government to take responsibility for the failure. However, the most scathing criticism and remarks have come from the key leaders of the oldest political party in the country. For instance, the unofficial boss and heir apparent of the party, Mr Rahul Gandhi took a jibe …”Now the Prime Minister and his ministers would say - ‘The hunger in India is not growing, rather other nations are not hungry’.” Yet another key leader, P. Chidambaram, who was recently jailed and is facing prosecution on serious corruption charges for economic offences, tweeted, “When will the Hon'ble PM address real issues like malnutrition, hunger, and stunting and wasting among children? 22.4 crore people in India are considered undernourished India's rank in the Global Hunger Index is near the bottom -- 107 out of 121 countries.” Interestingly, none of critics even bother to consider that India is not only self-sufficient in food grains and other food products, but it also exports these items now.
NGOs and World Hunger Index
Of the two NGOs linked with GHI report, the Concern Worldwide is a registered aid and humanitarian agency in Ireland which was founded in 1968 as a non-governmental organization (NGO) by one Kennedy couple apparently driven by an appeal for aid by missionaries for the starving population of the war-torn Biafra (West Africa). Ever since the Organization has grown and extended its area of operation in dozens (over 50) of countries worldwide, and boasts of helping the world's poorest and most vulnerable people in several countries. They are said to be indulged in charity works in collaboration with small community groups, governments and large global organizations. Besides, currently it has two major affiliates, namely Concern Worldwide US and Concern Worldwide UK operating from the important cities of these countries. The funding sources of the NGO are interested individuals, communities, companies, and sponsored events as well as some financial support from the Irish government, the European Union, the United Nations, the British government and certain major trusts. According to the NGOs’ voluntary revelation, the Concern focuses on five main programmes in Education, Health and Nutrition, Gender Equality, Livelihoods and Emergencies.
The other NGO, Deutsche Welt Hunger Hilfe (literal meaning World Hunger Aid) is a German allegedly non-denominational and politically independent, non-profit and non-governmental aid agency, which works on the areas of the development cooperation and humanitarian assistance. It was founded in 1962 on the initiative of the then Federal President of Germany, Heinrich Lubke with the declared goal of ending hunger and poverty, and ever since its foundation each respective Federal President of Germany has worked as its patron. Its areas of operations have been Africa, Latin America and Asia. It is said to be associated with the Foundations Platform F20, yet another alleged global network of foundations and philanthropic organizations. Although their sources of funding are a large number of private donors too, but it still continues to depend on the institutional grants for the agencies like the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Union Commission, the German Federal Foreign Office, and foundations and philanthropic organizations. They are said to be mainly active in direct disaster aid, rural development and food security but also occasionally invest in basic infrastructure development such as schools, roads, etc.
By current definition, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool which attempts to measure and track hunger on global, regional and country basis. Naturally, the aforesaid two NGOs, namely the Concern Worldwide and Welt Hunger Hilfe, evolved in the Western European countries have grown and expanded their network and influence across the world to a proportion that they are now defining and determining hunger in the world, thereby even succeeding to put nationalities on defensive with their verdicts often based on a questionable sample and methodology. These NGOs are doing it annually and their compiled data and observations in this regard are released annually usually in the month of October every year. Their target population is mostly in African, Latin American and Asian countries. According to their current assessment, 44 countries including India have alarming or serious levels of hunger, 20 countries have moderate, serious, or alarming hunger levels with higher 2022 GHI scores, and 46 countries will fail to reach a low level of hunger by the year 2030. Ironically, India (107) is ranked below Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (81), Bangladesh (84), and Pakistan (99) in this report.
A more or less worldwide acceptable definition of hunger is a condition in which a person does not have the physical or financial capability and means to eat sufficient food required for his basic nutritional needs for a sustained period. Then the most extreme form of hunger could be a situation, where malnutrition is so widespread that people have started dying of starvation due to their lack of access to sufficient and reasonably nutritious food, an eventuality often declared as a famine. In the light these facts and definitions, it indeed seems strange, or even ridiculous, to put a fast developing country like India under the category of a country with alarming GHI, while as second largest producer, this country is now producing basic commodities like wheat surplus to its total requirement and has been exporting it to other countries for years. For instance, out of a total estimated production of 109 million tons of wheat in 2021-22, India had consumed about 90 million tons domestically and exported seven (7) million of it to other countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, UAE, Indonesia, Malaysia, Qatar, and so on. For the financial year 2022-23, India has set an enhanced goal of exporting 10 million tons to the needy countries in Europe, Africa and Asia keeping in view the global disruptions of wheat supplies due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
Government of India response
Strongly rebutting the data released by the NGOs in Global Hunger Report 2022, the Ministry of Woman and Child welfare in India released a comprehensive statement through the Press information Bureau (PIB) on 15 October 2022 clearly stating that the said index is an erroneous measure of hunger and suffers from serious methodological parameters. They added that this misinformation seems to have become the hallmark of the annually released GHI while simultaneously elaborating a series of measures taken by the Indian government to ensure food security. They said that the index ranking India at 107th position in WHI list suffers from serious methodological issues reflecting grossly inaccurate picture about the country. Three out of the four indicators used for calculation of the index are related to health of Children and cannot be credible representative of the entire population. Further, the fourth and most important indicator estimate of Proportion of Undernourished (PoU) population is based on an opinion poll conducted on a very small sample size of 3000 in such a vast country.
The government response said that a consistent effort is yet again visible to taint India’s image as a Nation, which does not fulfill the food security and nutritional requirements of its population. The Global Hunger Report 2022 released by the two NGOs from Ireland and Germany respectively has placed India at 107 ranking out of 121 countries included in the report. Sadly, the report is disconnected from the ground reality in the country by not only choosing a selectively small sample in such a vast population but also in deliberately ignoring the consistent efforts made by the Government of India to ensure food security for its population, more particularly during the Covid Pandemic in last two years. Taking a one-dimensional or unipolar view, the report has lowered India’s rank based on the estimate of Proportion of Undernourished (PoU) population for India at 16.3%.
In this regard, the point to be seen is that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is based on the “Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES)” Survey Module conducted through Gallop World Poll (GWP), just comprising of an opinion poll based on eight questions on a sample size of 3000 respondents. Sadly, the data selectively collected from such a miniscule size out of the mammoth population of a country like India through FIES has been utilized by the NGOs to compute proportion of the undernourished population value, which is patently erroneous and unethical reflecting an obvious bias against the country. Clearly, the Concern Worldwide and Welt Hunger Hilfe have not applied due diligence and wisdom in a sincere way while compiling data and releasing the report. In support of their stand on the NGOs’ WHI report, the government also listed out the details of its important measures taken for the food security.
The government rebuttal and rejection of the NGOs’ report further added that the matter had been already taken up with the FAO asking them not to use estimates based on a defective FIES survey module data in July 2022 because any statistical output based on this shall lack merit and credibility. Notwithstanding an assurance from the FAO about further engagement on the subject for the corrective action, this misleading data have been used for deriving conclusions on hunger and the publication of the GHI report by the NGOs, apparently with tacit approval of the FAO. Of the stated eight questions, it may be relevant to cite just one question for illustration: “During the last 12 months, was there a time when, because of lack of money or other resources: You were worried you would not have enough food to eat? You ate less than you thought you should?” Evidently, such a question neither helps to provide any concrete evidence about the lack of nutritional support nor about the assurance from the government about food security for the target population.
How Far GOI Response is Sustainable?
The Indian Government’s objection about the GHI report is not without valid reasons. While the foreign governments and political parties in power in the Western countries undertake more or less an objective approach commensurate with own long term policies and bilateral interests with India, but the Western media and NGOs are generally found biased, who so often indulge in misinformation and misreporting on India. For instance, the majority of the left-leaning Western media consistently published negative and sometimes even bizarre reports about the handling of Covid-19 pandemic by the Government of India. For this, many of the Western media houses purportedly recruit only such correspondents / news reporters for South Asia, who are willing to write such fanciful reports in lieu of handsome payments. In this context, the author would like to quote the New York Times's advertisement during 2021 for the recruitment of a South Asia business correspondent based in India. The following text in advertisement published by the media group itself smacks of their crude bias against the present regime in India.
“India’s future now stands at a crossroads. Mr. Modi is advocating a self-sufficient, muscular nationalism centered on the country’s Hindu majority. That vision puts him at odds with the interfaith, multicultural goals of modern India’s founders. The government's growing efforts to police online speech and media discourse have raised difficult questions about balancing issues of security and privacy with free speech. Technology is both a help and a hindrance…”
The same newspaper (The New York Times) had published a bizarre Covid story about India on 25 May 2021 which inter alia dealt with the corona positive cases and death toll in three categories that reads as follows: A conservative scenario, a more likely scenario, and a worse scenario. According to the conservative estimates, the total number of cases on date would be 404.2 million and deaths 600,000 while a more likely scenario had 539.0 million total cases with 1.6 million deaths. Then their media wizards also visualized the worse-case scenario, where the total number of Covid patients was 700.7 million with total deaths 4.2 million. On the contrary, India has ultimately emerged as the only country with such a vast population, which not only developed its own indigenous vaccines despite constant skepticism raised by the Western governments and media but also successfully operated and implemented the largest ever vaccination programme in the world with a web-based efficient monitoring system. Today, India has only a handful Covid-19 cases while many Western countries, including the US, are still under the deep Covid-19 mess, which the Western media seldom reports. This bias of the Western media against India is not restricted to one particular issue; instead, it is in their DNA and is extended to the most other areas and issues.
The government data suggests that over 20,000 NGOs, majority of Indian origin receiving donations from the suspect foreign sources, have been banned or stripped of their foreign funding licenses since 2011 under the Foreign Contribution Registration Act (FCRA). Most of these NGOs were found violating laws that regulate foreign donations, or they had failed to renew their old licenses, or even found engaged in unlawful activities deviating from their own licenses. The list of banned or ostracized NGOs is rather long and includes prominent names like as Oxfam India, Tuberculosis Association of India, the Ramakrishna Mission and the Missionaries of Charity, which was founded by the late Mother Teresa. Some of the reasons cited for the suspension of licenses include mis-utilization of funds, non-submission of annual returns, indulgence in unlawful religious conversions, or even acting as a destabilizing force. For example, some environmental NGOs systematically raised a bogey of protests against the upcoming Kudankulum nuclear power project in 2012. According to a leaked intelligence report, the so credible NGOS such as the Amnesty International, Action Aid and Greenpeace were responsible for undermining India’s international standing through their constant criticism, and were indirectly responsible for reducing India’s GDP by 2-3% over a period.
There is no denying of fact that the poverty and hunger are major challenges in the today’s world and the majority of such people live in the countries of Africa, Latin America and Asia. For centuries, countries in these continents were colonized by the European countries through application of force and deception, and the former’s money and material resources were constantly drained for the latter’s comfort and revelry rendering them more and more poor and destitute. Now the governments of the very same Western countries, their media and NGOs offer meager and symbolic money and material aid as charity and sympathy, and in lieu they try to command and dictate poorer countries’ destiny through own dictates, value judgments, do’s and don’ts. Neither the history of India’s glorious past nor its nemesis at the hands of Islamists and British colonizers during the last millennium is unknown to the rest of the world. However, in the recent decades, the country has made rapid stride with all-round progress on various socio-economic and political parameters and is in the process of emerging as a powerful nation on the world scenario. Therefore, the overt and covert designs and maneuvers of the disruptive foreign powers and their agents are understandable else why the FAO should allow disputed and challenged data to these NGOs in the first place and then why the latter use it for evaluation despite the reported discrepancies.
Let’s briefly discuss the criteria of evaluation of WHI and major findings of NGOs about the largest democracy in the world:
The GHI encompasses the following four (4) component indices.
According to the WHI report of 2022 and inferences drawn, currently the child wasting rate in India at 19.3% is worse compared to the recorded levels in 2014 as 15.1% and 2004 at 17.5%. This percentage level is also highest in the world and is also responsible for increased average in the region due to large Indian population. Then the report also infers that the undernourishment is constantly rising up in India implying that approximately 22.4 crore people are undernourished in India alone out of the total 82.8 crore such people globally. This indicator is a measure of the proportion of the population facing chronic deficiency of dietary energy intake. Then the report also offers a fig leaf by suggesting that the child stunting and mortality has shown some improvement from 2014 to 2022, of which stunting has now reduced from 38.7% to 35.5% and mortality rate under five years declined from 4.6% to 3.3% during the period.
Now let’s see what additional data and justification the Indian government has put forth to counter and dismiss the claims in the NGOs’ GHI report. The government has stressed that the Food Balance Sheets of the FAO agree that the per capita dietary energy supply in India has been constantly increasing year-on-year following the enhanced production of major agricultural commodities in the country. Therefore, the country’s undernourishment levels logically too cannot deteriorate unless serious errors are committed in data collection and evaluation thereof. Some of the well-known measures taken by the Indian government to augment food security are given as under:
In the aforesaid context, the point needs to be noted is that these beneficiaries of government programmes are not starved families; instead, the majority of them belong to low income groups such as farmers, retailers, labourers (skilled and un-skilled), etc. majority with some means of earning for livelihood. As every rational and fact-finding person would agree that three other indicators apart from the percentage of undernourished (PoU), included in Global Hunger Index essentially relate to children below certain age viz. Stunting, Wasting and mortality. These indicators are outcomes of complex interactions of various other factors like drinking water, sanitation, genetics, environment, utilization of food intake apart from hunger, and so on, which is taken as the causative/outcome factor for stunting and wasting in the GHI. Calculating hunger based on mainly indicators relating to health indicators of children, that too on a small sample population is neither scientific nor rational in any way.
Indian Census due in 2021 could not be timely undertaken owing to Covid-19 pandemic. Although some estimates now project India’s population to have crossed 1.40 billion mark but even by the most conservative estimates it cannot be below 1.35 billion. Taking the sample size of 3,000 of the FAO, the average representative population on which their conclusion were drawn works out to just 0.0002% which seems to be simply absurd and ridiculous in the context of the second most populous country in the world. Another remarkable point is that despite the GOI’s objection and their assurance to look into the issue, this UN organization has allowed NGOs to use their data, clearly a case of an unethical measure and a breach of trust. But then this has not happened for the first time, many Western media houses, reputed NGOs and UN organizations dealing with human rights, environment and climatic issues, crime against women, transparency, and so on too have been found engaged on many occasions in unethical and unlawful business, which is also vindicated by the fact that the licenses of over 20,000 NGOs have been cancelled or not renewed since 2011 in India.
In the foregoing paragraphs, this author had purposely included the New York Times (NYT) report on Covid-19 in India. In a scenario where even the advanced country like United States is still struggling with manual accounting and issue of certificates for Covid-vaccinated individuals, Indian government had put in place a fully automated monitoring system for the corona-positive patients and issue of vaccination certificates just after the Covid-19 pandemic started consolidating its foothold in the country. As against the total cases of 4.46 crore and death toll 5.29 lakh in India till date (US total cases 9.91 crore and death toll 10.92 lakh), the NYT reported a staggering, rather bizarre, figure of total Covid patients 70.07 crore with death toll 42 lakh as worse case. Naturally, only NYT would know the source and methodology of arriving at such wonderful figures worked out to two decimal places of accuracy to add credibility to it. In this endeavour of constantly indulging in misinformation and propaganda against India, the NYT is not alone as many other leftist or left-leaning electronic and print media houses have also regularly indulged in India-bashing. For instance, yet another (reputed) US daily “Washington Post” has engaged two dedicated Indian writers on its pay roll, who are well known ‘Modi haters’ and regularly write against Prime Minister Modi, India and Hindus.
The author does not per say doubt the intentions of the two NGOs under question for the alleged bias against India but the very fact that they are actively receiving massive funding from the respective governments, the United Nations organizations, the European Union, private individuals, corporations, and several major trusts, foundations & philanthropic organizations to sustain their worldwide network and associated activities, makes them liable to work under pressure commensurate with the interest of these agencies and institutions. Another important fact that cannot be ignored is the country specific executives and support staff engaged by the NGOs and such other institutions. India is a large and unique country of paradoxes and complexities owing to people divided over the issues of communities, religions, castes, regions, languages, and so on; this includes a large percentage of people who give preference to their religion over the nation or spirit of patriotism, as also a large number of people who do not have faith in common uniting factors like national anthem or national flag. In such scenario, if the executive and support staff engaged by the NGOs and media houses is not objective and impartial, which has been so often observed, the data collection and derived conclusions would invariably be faulty and doubtful.
In the instant case comparisons have been made with reference to the years 2000 and 2014 taking as base, the rationale of which has not been explained. The author finds in the Indian context that the year 2000 is remarkable in the Indian political scene because the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) led government headed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came in power for the next five years. Similarly, the year 2014 is remarkable because after 10 years of Indian National Congress led government in power, the BJP led government headed by the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi was formed in that year. It is quite apparent worldwide that India has made tremendous progress and an all-round development under the present regime since May 2014. Collection of a meager sample of just three thousand children/people by the ground staff and then deriving purported conclusions based on the same data with reference to thus chosen base years certainly smacks of arbitrariness and bias. This is more so because it not only provides tools to foreign governments to put present Indian government under pressure for making compromises in her foreign and domestic policies commensurate with former’s interests but also provide opportunity to opposition parties domestically to criticize the latter for similar failures.
The government objections and summary rejection of the GHI report appears to be on valid grounds. The sample data collected for the WHI purpose itself is inadequate for the huge population of India, and methodology and sources of collections too appear doubtful and questionable. The comparison made and inferences derived in the report with reference to previous years put not only the present but previous BJP government too under dock as if all was well only under the legacy government and, rightly so, the opposition leaders have spared no time in making scathing attacks on Prime Minister Modi and his government. Despite the end of colonial rule in 1947, the successive legacy governments largely endorsed and followed policies towing their line for decades that suited and served their interests. Therefore, the irritation and consequent nefarious designs of foreign media and NGOs with tacit consent of their governments is understandable because the present nationalist government in India is tenaciously engaged reversing the previous trend through policy measures and action on ground disturbing the ecology thus evolved over a long period with the nexus of willing-to-compromise national and international vested interests. This could be also understood from the fact that action against over 80% NGOs for their unlawful activities and irregularities have been taken by the Modi Government only after 2014, which is nearly impossible in a country with so prevalent judicial activism unless concrete grounds and case indeed exist against them.
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