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Daily CUrrent Affairs 26.10.2021 (A reminder that India still trails in the hunger fight, ‘CO2 emissions in 2020 above decadal average’)

Daily CUrrent Affairs 26.10.2021 (A reminder that India still trails in the hunger fight, ‘CO2 emissions in 2020 above decadal average’)

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1.A reminder that India still trails in the hunger fight

The Government’s objection to the methodology of the Global Hunger Index is not based on facts

The Global Hunger Report (GHR) has once again made headlines in India for the country’s poor ranking in terms of the Global Hunger Index (GHI). The report ranks India at 101 out of 116 countries, with the country falling in the category of having a ‘serious’ hunger situation. The ranks are not comparable across years because of various methodological issues and so it is wrong to say that India’s standing has fallen from 94 (out of 107) in 2020. However, it is true that year after year, India ranks at the lower end — below a number of other countries that are poorer in terms of per capita incomes. This in itself is cause for concern.

The indicators

The Government of India, through a press release, refuted the GHI, claiming that it is ‘devoid of ground reality’ and based on ‘unscientific’ methodology. The GHI is ‘based on four indicators — percentage of undernourished in the population (PoU); percentage of children under five years who suffer from wasting (low weight-for-height); percentage of children under five years who suffer from stunting (low height-for-age), and percentage of children who die before the age of five (child mortality)’. The first and the last indicators have a weight of one-third each and the two child malnutrition indicators account for one-sixth weightage each in the final GHI, where each indicator is standardised based on thresholds set slightly above the highest country-level values. Looking at each of these indicators separately, India shows a worsening in PoU and childhood wasting in comparison with 2012. It is the PoU figure of 15.3% for 2018-20 that the Government is contesting.

From official data sources

The Government’s objection to the methodology, that “They have based their assessment on the results of a ‘four question’ opinion poll, which was conducted telephonically by Gallup”, is not based on facts.The report is not based on the Gallup poll; rather, it is on the PoU data that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) puts out regularly (as has also been clarified by the publishing agencies). PoU, according to the FAO, ‘is an estimate of the proportion of the population whose habitual food consumption is insufficient to provide the dietary energy levels that are required to maintain a normal active and healthy life’. PoU is estimated taking into account a number of factors such as food availability, food consumption patterns, income levels and distribution, population structure, etc. All the data used are from official data sources of respective national governments. In the absence of food consumption data in most countries, this indicator is an estimate based on a modelling exercise using available data; therefore, there is some margin of error. Most of the criticism of the FAO’s PoU data has been about how it underestimates hunger rather than over. Therefore, while there is scope for a valid discussion on the GHI methodology and its limitations, this objection by the Government is not warranted.

Slow rate of progress

The main message that the GHR gives is to once again remind us that India has not been very successful in tackling the issue of hunger and that the rate of progress is very slow. Comparable values of the index have been given in the report for four years, i.e., 2000, 2006, 2012 and 2021. While the GHI improved from 37.4 to 28.8 during 2006-12, the improvement is only from 28.8 to 27.5 between 2012-21. The PoU data show that the proportion of undernourished population showed a declining trend up to 2016-18 when it reached the lowest level of 13.8%, after which there is an increase to 14% for 2017-19 and 15.3% for 2018-20. Other data also broadly validate these findings. The partial results of the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-20) also show that stunting and wasting indicators have stagnated or declined for most States for which data is available. The leaked report of the consumption expenditure survey (2017-18) also showed that rural consumption had fallen between 2012-18 and urban consumption showed a very slight increase.

A period before the pandemic

It must also be remembered that all the data are for the period before the COVID-19 pandemic. There were many indications based on nationally representative data — such as from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy and various field surveys conducted by research organisations, academics and civil society groups — that the situation of food insecurity at the end of the year 2020 was concerning, and things are most likely to have become worse after the second wave. Many of these surveys find that over 60% of the respondents say that they are eating less than before the national lockdown in 2020. Services such as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and school mid-day meals continue to be disrupted in most areas, denying crores of children the one nutritious meal a day they earlier had access to. It would, therefore, not be surprising if national surveys (hopefully conducted soon) show a further slowdown in improvement in malnutrition.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has affected food security and nutrition across the world. In countries such as India — where the situation was also already poor to begin with — the impact is probably worse. The response cannot be one of denial; rather, what is needed are measures to ensure rapid recovery. It has been pointed out by many that the relief measures of the Government, so far, have been inadequate in comparison to the scale of the problem.

Cuts for schemes

The only substantial measure has been the provision of additional free foodgrains through the Public Distribution System (PDS), and even this has been lacking. It leaves out about 40% of the population, many of whom are in need and includes only cereals. Also, as of now, it ends in November 2021. At the same time, inflation in other foods, especially edible oils, has also been very high affecting people’s ability to afford healthy diets. On the one hand, while we need additional investments and greater priority for food, nutrition and social protection schemes, Budget 2021 saw cuts in real terms for schemes such as the ICDS and the mid-day meal.

The argument that the GHI is an indicator of undernutrition and not hunger, is only diverting attention away from more substantial issues. Of course, malnutrition is affected by a number of factors (such as health, sanitation, etc.) other than food consumption alone, but that in no way means that healthy diets are not central. There is no denying that diverse nutritious diets for all Indians still remain a distant dream.

Background

India has been ranked at 94 among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020.

Global Hunger Index

  • Annual Report: Jointly published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe.
    • It was first produced in 2006. It is published every October. The 2020 edition marks the 15th edition of the GHI.
  • Aim: To comprehensively measure and track hunger at the global, regional, and country levels.
  • Calculation: The GHI scores are calculated each year to assess progress and setbacks in combating hunger. It is calculated on the basis of four indicators:
    • Undernourishment: Share of the population with insufficient caloric intake.
    • Child Wasting: Share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition.
    • Child Stunting: Share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition.
    • Child Mortality: The mortality rate of children under the age of five.
  • Scoring:
    • Based on the values of the four indicators, the GHI determines hunger on a 100-point scale where 0 is the best possible score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst.
    • Each country’s GHI score is classified by severity, from low to extremely alarming.

Key Points

  • Global Scenario:
    • Worldwide Hunger: Represented by a GHI score of 18.2 (moderate level), down from a 2000 GHI score of 28.2 (serious).
    • Factors:
      • The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, as well as a massive outbreak of desert locusts in the Horn of Africa and other crises, are exacerbating food and nutrition insecurity for millions of people.
        • It needs to be noted that 2020 GHI scores do not reflect the impact of Covid-19 on hunger and undernutrition.
      • The above mentioned crises come on top of existing hunger caused by conflict, climate extremes, and economic shocks (random, unpredictable events).
    • Region-wise Performance: Africa South of the Sahara and South Asia have the highest hunger and undernutrition levels among world regions, with 2020 GHI scores of 27.8 and 26.0, respectively—both considered serious.
    • SDG 2 Progress: The world is not on track to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal – known as Zero Hunger for short – by 2030.
  • Indian Scenario:
    • Overall Performance:
      • With a score of 27.2, India has a level of hunger that is “serious”.
      • It ranks 94 out of 107 countries in the Index. In 2019, India’s rank was 102 out of 117 countries.
    • Comparison with Other Countries:
      • India features behind Nepal (73), Pakistan (88), Bangladesh (75), Indonesia (70) among others.
      • Out of the total 107 countries, only 13 countries fare worse than India including countries like Rwanda (97), Nigeria (98), Afghanistan (99), Liberia (102), Mozambique (103), Chad (107) among others.
    • Performance on the Indicators:
      • Undernourishment: 14% of India’s population is undernourished (2017-19). It was 16.3% during 2011-13.
      • Child Wasting: 17.3% (2015-19), it was 15.1% in 2010-14.
      • Child Stunting: 34.7%, it has improved significantly, from 54% in 2000 to less than 35% now.
      • Child Mortality: 3.7%, it was 5.2% in 2012.

Some Related Initiatives by India

  • Eat Right India Movement: An outreach activity organised by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for citizens to nudge them towards eating right.
  • POSHAN Abhiyaan: Launched by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2018, it targets to reduce stunting, undernutrition, anemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls).
  • Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana: A centrally sponsored scheme executed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, is a maternity benefit programme being implemented in all districts of the country with effect from 1st January, 2017.
  • Food Fortification: Food Fortification or Food Enrichment is the addition of key vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A & D to staple foods such as rice, milk and salt to improve their nutritional content.
  • National Food Security Act, 2013: The National Food Security Act, (NFSA) 2013 legally entitled up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population to receive subsidized food grains under the Targeted Public Distribution System.
  • Mission Indradhanush: It targets children under 2 years of age and pregnant women for immunization against 12 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (VPD).
  • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme: Launched on 2nd October, 1975, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme offers a package of six services (Supplementary Nutrition, Pre-school non-formal education, Nutrition & health education, Immunization, Health check-up and Referral services) to children in the age group of 0-6 years, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Suggestions

  • Governments, private actors, and NGOs should carefully coordinate their responses to overlapping food and health crises and work with community organizations to make sure interventions are culturally acceptable, reach the most vulnerable, and preserve local ecosystems.
  • Food should be priced not only by its weight or volume but also by its nutrient density, its freedom from contamination, and its contribution to ecosystem services and social justice.
  • Governments should expand access to maternal and child health care, as well as education on healthy diets and child feeding practices.
  • Supporting smallholder farmers in becoming sustainable and diversified producers; governments and NGOs must seek to improve those farmers’ access to agricultural inputs and extension services, coupling local and indigenous agricultural knowledge with new technologies.
  • Existing human rights-based multilateral mechanisms and international standards—such as the Committee on World Food Security—must be strengthened to support inclusive policy making and sustainable food systems.

2.‘CO2 emissions in 2020 above decadal average’

Pandemic had little impact on overall figures: WMO

A report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) on Monday said the increase in CO2 from 2019 to 2020 was slightly lower than that observed from 2018 to 2019 but higher than the average annual growth rate over the past decade. This is despite the approximately 5.6% drop in fossil fuel CO2 emissions in 2020 due to restrictions related to the pandemic.

Ahead of the crucial talks in Glasgow next week, where the countries will attempt to negotiate ways to stem global greenhouse gas emissions, updated data shows that the pandemic disruption in 2020 didn’t significantly dent overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Emissions on the rise

For methane, the increase from 2019 to 2020 was higher than that observed from 2018 to 2019 and also higher than the average annual growth rate over the past decade.

For nitrous oxides also, the increase was higher and also than the average annual growth rate over the past 10 years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI) shows that from 1990 to 2020, radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases (LLGHGs) increased by 47%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase.

Concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most significant greenhouse gas, reached 413.2 parts per million in 2020 and is 149% of the pre-industrial level. Methane (CH4) is 262% and nitrous oxide (N2O) is 123% of the levels in 1,750 when human activities started disrupting earth’s natural equilibrium.

Roughly half of the CO2 emitted by human activities today remains in the atmosphere. The other half is taken up by oceans and land ecosystems. The Bulletin, as the WMO report is called, flagged concern that the ability of land ecosystems and oceans to act as ‘sinks’ may become less effective in future, thus reducing their ability to absorb CO2 and act as a buffer against larger temperature increase.

The Bulletin shows that from 1990 to 2020, radiative forcing — the warming effect on our climate — by long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 47%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase. The numbers are based on monitoring by WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network.

“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

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