Another Index of doubtful authenticity

The Global Hunger Index needs to be challenged for many reasons including reliance on outdated data, flawed methodology and declining credibility of global institutions

Published: 21st October 2021 12:15 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th October 2021 11:21 PM   |  A+A-

Global hunger index

Express Illustrations by Amit Bandre

The conclusions of the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021, which has downgraded India and even placed it below Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and other South Asian countries, need to be challenged for a variety of reasons including reliance on outdated data, flawed methodology and the declining credibility of global institutions.

The report, which seeks to track hunger at the global and regional levels, is based on four indicators: undernourishment, child wasting (low weight for height), child stunting (low height for their age) and child mortality.

The report places India at 101 among 116 countries and its standing is much lower than several other South Asian countries. It has a score of 27.5. On the other hand, there are 18 nations with a score less than 5 (the lower the score, the better the country is supposed to have performed). While India, which was ranked 94 in 2020, has dropped to 101, Sri Lanka (65), Bangladesh (76), Nepal (76) and Pakistan (92) have fared much better.

The GHI needs to be questioned for the following reasons: For the indicators ‘prevalence of wasting in children under five years’ and ‘prevalence of stunting in children under five years’, the findings pertain to the official data available for the period 2016-18. For good or for worse, they do not reflect the ground situation of 2021.

Further, the methodology used by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), whose data is relied upon by the GHI, is questionable as it is based on an opinion poll conducted telephonically by Gallup. Further, the questions asked by the pollster were related to the status of employment during Covid-19, loss of job or business or loss of earnings. While the government and other agencies successfully mounted a massive campaign to ensure essential food supplies to the people during the pandemic, the respondents were never asked whether they received food support. Equally absurd is the fact that while the scientific analysis of undernourishment would require measurement of weight and height, the GHI relied on a Gallup poll based on pure telephonic estimates.

Here are some other issues that arise from the GHI rankings. In the first 18 countries in the GHI rankings, most were in the less than 5 or 5.5 range in the year 2000 and have retained their position. However, China, whose score was 13.3 in 2000, has made a spectacular improvement—its score is now less than 5. Is this based on sound data? This question needs to be raised in light of the strange happenings in the WHO ever since China manoeuvred to get the candidate it supported elected as its Secretary-General.

Further, from where does GHI source its data for the four indicators? The report says data comes from various UN and other multilateral agencies like the WHO, World Bank, UNICEF, FAO and from “authors’ estimates”.

Why is the involvement of so many UN agencies and the WHO in the making of this report worthy of notice? The data provided by China or collected by the UN agencies from Beijing and adopted by GHI needs to be examined with a fine-tooth comb. This is in light of the shocking scandal in the World Bank when senior officials of the bank ensured that the data from China for Ease of Doing Business were fudged in order to improve its rating.  

This scandal should put India on full alert in regard to every report or evaluation that emanates from UN agencies. Following the scandal, which came to light after an independent audit, the World Bank discontinued the rankings. The audit showed gross interference in the rankings by World Bank bosses including its President and Chief Executive Officer. They ordered manipulation of data to reverse China’s fall from 78 to 85 in the rankings.  

Also disturbing are details about the manner in which China stifled a proper investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 virus in Wuhan and the obvious unwillingness of the Director-General to call out Beijing for its non-cooperation. Given these developments, how reliable is the data collected by the WHO and used by those who finalised the GHI rankings?

The GHI report, which seeks to run down India, is in line with some other global institutions that have been pooh-poohing well-entrenched democratic traditions in the country. When one sees the flaws in the methodology adopted by the agencies that prepared the GHI report, we are reminded of the absurdities that were obvious in the Press Freedom Index prepared by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Democracy Report 2020 produced by the Swedish agency V-Dem.

The RSF report claimed that there was better press freedom in many theocratic nations and countries devoid of the basic fundamentals of democracy than in India. Maldives, where only Muslims can be citizens and where the Sharia law is supreme, is supposedly a better “democracy” and a nation with better press freedom than India. There are dozens of such examples in these reports, which clearly establish that they are agenda-driven.

Further, ever since China enhanced its funding for the UN, it is trying to arm-twist the world body and its agencies. Despite India’s standing in vaccine production, the WHO’s non-certification of India’s indigenous Covaxin, which has been administered to 112 million citizens and is seen to be efficacious, is a case in point. This is causing endless hardship to lakhs of Indians who need to travel abroad for personal or professional reasons. At whose behest is the WHO dragging its feet?

The time has therefore come to call out the so-called “global” reports and scrutinise the work of world bodies.

A Surya Prakash 
Former chairman of Prasar Bharati and Scholar, Democracy Studies 



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