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Global Hunger Index Is Questionable on Many Counts, Here is Why – A Deep Dive

global hunger index 2019

Global Hunger Index, which claims to be a comprehensive report to measure the status of malnutrition and hunger, was released for the year 2019 recently. India ranked 102nd in the list which raised a lot of questions on our nutrition strategy. Without looking much into the reports, some politicians jumped to conclusions questioning the work of the government.

We decided to delve a bit deeper in the parameters used by the index to measure malnutrition and hunger. The results were rather amusing. The basic issue we encountered was- how can India’s status over 2017,2018 and 2019 be gauged when the same source not later than 2016 is used for all three years?

India’s ranks in the last three years have been shown below-

Global Hunger Index Year Rank Total Nations Surveyed
2017 100 119
2018 103 119
2019 102 117

Global Hunger Index uses four parameters to judge malnutrition and hunger-

  1. Undernourishment (as % of total population)
  2. Prevalence of wasting in under five age children (%)
  3. Prevalence of stunting in under five age children (%)
  4. Under five child mortality (%)

Since we are to compare 2017, 2018 and 2019 reports, let us tabulate the values the Global Hunger Index report gave for the above four parameters-

Year Undernourishment

(%)

Wasting

(%)

Stunting

(%)

Under five mortality

(%)

2017 14.5 21.0 38.4 4.8
2018 14.8 21.0 38.4 4.3
2019 14.5 20.8 37.9 3.9

(The earlier reports can be accessed here)

The data sources of getting information for the above four parameters is given in the report itself-

We decided to check for ourselves the sources mentioned above. Let us see the result for each parameter-

Stunting-

India performs the worst in the parameter of stunting. The data source given in the above screenshot is the joint data published by UNICEF, World Bank and WHO every year. Thus, 2019 Global Hunger Index report relies on the combined data released in 2019, the 2018 one relies on the data released in 2018 and so on.

When we downloaded the excel sheet and checked the latest 2019 report for India, we found the following-

To summarize-

  • Stunting is 37.9%, used exactly in the Global Hunger Index report
  • Curiously, survey year given is 2015-16. For the report of 2019!
  • Source used by UNICEF, WHO, World Bank Joint data is National Family Health Survey-4 conducted in 2015-16. Note that a survey conducted four years prior to 2019 is being used.

We decided to check the 2018 joint data released. It showed similar trend.

  • Stunting rate given is 38.4%. It was adopted in the Global Hunger Index report 2018.
  • Curiously, even in this report, the survey year is 2015-16 and the source is the National Family Health Survey-4 of 2015-16!

So we decided to check 2017 joint dataset which was used as a source for Global Hunger Index 2017 report.

Yet again,

  • Stunting percentage is 38.4%. It was adopted in the Global Hunger Index 2017
  • The survey year is 2015-16, and the source is the National Family Health Survey-4 of 2015-16

It is intriguing that the Global Hunger Index report is being released every year since 2017 but the same data is being used since 2015-16!

Wasting-

The case for wasting is no different. The Global Hunger Index report gives the same joint dataset of UNICEF, WHO and World Bank as a source of wasting for those respective years.

For 2019, the joint dataset shows-

  • Wasting as 20.8%. It was adopted in the Global Hunger Index report of 2019
  • Survey year as 2015-16 and yet again source is the National Family Health Survey-4 of 2015-16

For 2018, the same set of source and survey year is found.

The picture is no different for 2017 where the same data has been used.

Thus, even for wasting, we are being shown a report for 2017, 2018 and 2019 with the same dataset of 2015-16!

Under Five Mortality-

The source for under-five mortality rate is given in the Global Hunger Index report 2019 as the UN-IGME Report 2018. After looking at the said IGME report, the value of 3.9% for 2019 is correctly taken in the Global Hunger Index report 2019 report. Same confirmation comes for the values of 4.3% and 4.8% value taken in earlier 2018 and 2017 report. Thus, values taken are correct in the hunger index reports from the various UN-IGME reports.

But what is the source of UN-IGME data itself? The UN-IGME Report itself tells the sources it uses-

Thus, sources are three-

  1. UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS)
  2. USAID-supported Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS)
  3. Periodic population censuses

We decided to check on all the three sources-

  • UNICEF-supported Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) has its own official website. When we input India in the search, we see that the last MICS survey in India was in the year 2000. Thus, this cannot be the source
  • USAID-supported Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) also has its official website. It shows the latest survey by DHS as conducted in 2015-16, which turns out to the National Family Health Survey-4 of India conducted in 2015-16! If we check the NFHS-4, it shows under five mortality rate as 5%, which is nowhere to be found in the actual UN-IGME reports which show the rate as 3.9%, 4.3% and 4.8% for various years. Thus, even this can’t be the source.
  • This leaves us with the periodic population censuses. While the census happened in India in 2011, the government conducts periodic surveys called as “Sample Registration System” (SRS) every year for select parameters. It is in SRS survey where we find our data source from which Global Hunger Report adopted the data. It is tabled below-
Global Hunger Index Report Year Value of under-five mortality Taken from SRS Report Year
2019 3.9 2016
2018 4.3 2015
2017 4.8   2013*

*2013 report shows the rate as 4.9, doesn’t match with 4.8. But is a close value.

Yet again, we see that for the 2019 report for Global Hunger Index, the data taken is from 2016. For the preceding reports, the data is even older. No dataset has changed post 2016, thus essentially making the reports of 2017, 2018 and 2019 rely on old data.

Undernourishment-

The data source for undernourishment given is Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” released every year. The report for 2019 was used a source for the 2019 Global Hunger Index report and similar for previous years.

The data taken from FAO’s report matches with the one present in the Global Hunger Index reports. But when we check the source for FAO’s own numbers, we don’t get any specific source. FAO in the Annexure 1 claims to have developed its own mathematical model to calculate the Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU). It is based on three parameters which we analyze.

  1. Minimum Dietary Energy Requirement- It sets the minimum diet which people must have. If it falls below it, the person becomes undernourished. It is calculated based on population structure of different countries based on UN World Population Prospects report every year. This appears to be a fair way of calculation.
  2. Dietary Energy Consumption (DEC)-After setting minimum requirement for diet, we must know how much people are actually consuming. That is calculated by Dietary Energy Consumption. But how do we calculate it every year? FAO says the DEC is based on the Food Balance Sheet of every nation created by FAO. When we checked FAO’s website, the last Food Balance Sheet of India is present as of 2013. FAO has been projecting the data from 2013 every year by assuming a certain change in per capita availability of cereals and meat. Thus, the report from 2017, 2018 and 2019 is based on “projections” and no real surveys.
  3. Coefficient of Variation- This will tell us the probability of how much food consumption can vary given unforeseen circumstances. FAO report claims that the data is based on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) developed by FAO. When we checked the website (https://microdata.fao.org/index.php/catalog?) which has a catalog of microdata for multiple nations, we found there exists no microdata on India!

Thus, the fourth parameter is either based on projections or has curious unavailability of data.

Overall, we find that the sources of data for the four parameters used in Global Hunger Index are either old, repetitive or vague. This raises some serious questions on the efficacy of the report. While the website of Global Hunger Index claims that we should compare reports from 2005, 2010 and 2019 only and not any other years, it defeats the very purpose of releasing the report every year. Especially for India, where India’s rank has varied since 2016, it becomes even more misleading for general people. Moreover, India has launched its ambitious Swachh Bharat Abhiyan which picked up after 2016. The POSHAN Abhiyan was launched in 2018. All these have had substantial effect on improving child health. This improvement is not captured in the Global Hunger Index Report since all its data is from 2016 or old.

Thus, we must raise a very pertinent question- If the 2017, 2018 and 2019 reports are based on old and repetitive data, is it worth creating a fuss around Global Hunger Index and India’s rank in it? Has it really been able to capture the changes in ground reality that have happened since 2016? A lot of clarification is in the order.

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