Global Hunger Index 2023: India's Child Wasting Rate is the Highest in the World

India's child-wasting rate of 18.7% is the highest in the world, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2023 released recently.  The South Asian country’s child wasting rate is higher than that of war-torn Yemen (at 14.4%) and Sudan (at 13.7%), which are ranked second and third in the world. Pakistan's child wasting rate is 8%.  It represents the share of children under age five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition.  The child wasting rate of the South Asia region is 14.8%, the highest of any world region and more than twice the child wasting rate of Africa. India is home to a quarter of the world's most undernourished people. According to the United Nations, India has nearly 195 million undernourished people. This is more than any other country, including China. 

India Tops in Child Wasting Rate. Source: The Wire

India Tops the World in Child Wasting. Source: Global Hunger Index 2023

India's Hindu Nationalist government  of Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to project India as a superpower launching moon missions and hosting G20 summits. Since the GHI 2023 report runs counter to this PR exercise, New Delhi has rejected its findings. But its own National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS 5) says that "Thirty-six percent of children under age five years are stunted; 19 percent are wasted; 32 percent are underweight; and 3 percent are overweight. Children born to mothers with no schooling and children in the lowest wealth quintile are most likely to be undernourished". 

Overall, India ranks at the 111th position out of 124 countries, with neighboring Pakistan (102nd), Bangladesh (81st), Nepal (69th) and Sri Lanka (60th) faring better than India in the index. India has slipped four notches from its 107th position in 2022.

India has slipped 4 places, from 107 in 2022 to 111 in 2023, on GHI. Pakistan ranking has also slipped 3 places, from 99 to 102.  It is not a huge surprise since the country is still facing the aftermath of the disastrous floods of 2022. It is also suffering from a serious economic crisis. Meanwhile, India's Modi government is making claims to being the world's fastest growing economy. And yet, Indian children are the most malnourished in the world. 

India Malnutrition Indicator Trends. Source GHI 2023
Pakistan Malnutrition Indicator Trends. Source GHI 2023

There's a close relationship between hunger and poverty. At the $3.65 poverty line, India accounts for 40% of the slight upward revision of the global poverty rate from 23.6% to 24.1%, according to the World Bank September 2023 Global Poverty Update. It is the same update that made the following recent headline in the Indian and Pakistani media about Pakistan: "Pakistan's 40% Population Lives Below Poverty Line, Says World Bank". Fact: 45.9% of Indians and 39.4% of Pakistanis live below the $3.65 a day poverty line as of September, 2023, according to the the latest World Bank global poverty update that takes into account the impact of inflation on poverty rates. But neither the Pakistani media nor India's compliant "Godi Media" reported it. Nor did they question why poverty in India is growing despite the Modi government's claim to be "the world's fastest growing economy". 

Global Child Poverty Rate. Source: UNICEF

Another recent report by UNICEF that went unnoticed by the media is that the child poverty rate in India far exceeds the rate in Bangladesh and Pakistan: At $2.15 poverty level, India has 11.5% children under poverty, Pakistan 5.6% and Bangladesh 5.1%.  At $3.65 poverty level, India has 49.8% children under poverty, Pakistan 45% and Bangladesh 35.2%. 

Child Poverty Rate By Year By Region From 2013 to 2022. Source: UNICEF

The UNICEF data shows that the South Asia region's child poverty rate at $2.15 for any year since 2013 drops to about a half when India is excluded. 

The latest World Bank and UNICEF reports remind me of the famous Indian writer and poet Javed Akhtar who told his audience at a conference in Mumbai earlier this year that he saw "no visible poverty" in Lahore during his multiple visits to Pakistan over the last three decades. Responding to Indian novelist Chetan Bhagat's query about Pakistan's economic crisis at ABP's "Ideas of India Summit 2023" in Mumbai, Akhtar said: "Unlike what you see in Delhi and 

Mumbai, I did not see any visible poverty in Lahore".  This was Akhtar's first interview upon his return to India after attending "Faiz Festival" in Lahore, Pakistan. 

Javed Akhtar at ABP Ideas Summit in Mumbai

Chetan Bhagat began by talking about high inflation, low forex reserves and major economic crisis in Pakistan and followed it up by asking Javed Akhtar about its effects he saw on the people in Pakistan. In response, Akhtar said, "Bilkul Nahin (Not at all). In India you see poverty right in front of you, next door to a billionaire. Maybe it is kept back of the beyond. Only some people are allowed to enter certain areas. But you don't see it (poverty) on the streets. In India, it is right in front of you...amiri bhi or gharibi bhi (wealth and poverty). Sare kam apke samne hain (It's all in front of you). Wahan yeh dekhai nahin deta (you don't see it in Pakistan)". 

Alhamra Arts Center, Lahore, Pakistan

Disappointed by the response, Bhagat suggested that the Indian visitor could have been guided by his hosts through certain routes where he couldn't see any poverty. Javed Akhtar then said "it's not possible to hide poverty. I would have seen at least a "jhalak" (glimpse) of it as I always do in Delhi and Mumbai....I have been to Pakistan many times but I have not seen it". 

What Javed Akhtar saw and reported recently is obviously anecdotal evidence. But it is also supported by hard data. Over 75% of the world's poor deprived of basic living standards (nutrition, cooking fuel, sanitation and housing) live in India compared to 4.6% in Bangladesh and 4.1% in Pakistan, according to a recently released OPHI/UNDP report on multidimensional poverty.  Here's what the report says: "More than 45.5 million poor people are deprived in only these four indicators (nutrition, cooking fuel, sanitation and housing). Of those people, 34.4 million live in India, 2.1 million in Bangladesh and 1.9 million in Pakistan—making this a predominantly South Asian profile". 

Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2022. Source: OPHI/UNDP

Income Poverty in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Source: Our World in Data

The UNDP poverty report shows that the income poverty (people living on $1.90 or less per day) in Pakistan is 3.6% while it is 22.5% in India and 14.3% in Bangladesh. In terms of the population vulnerable to multidimensional poverty, Pakistan (12.9%) does better than Bangladesh (18.2%) and India (18.7%)  However, Pakistan fares worse than India and Bangladesh in multiple dimensions of poverty. The headline multidimensional poverty (MPI) figure for Pakistan (0.198) is worse than for Bangladesh (0.104) and India (0.069). This is primarily due to the education and health deficits in Pakistan. Adults with fewer than 6 years of schooling are considered multidimensionally poor by OPHI/UNDP.  Income poverty is not included in the MPI calculations. The data used by OHP/UNDP for MPI calculation is from years 2017/18 for Pakistan and from years 2019/2021 for India. 

Multidimensional Poverty in South Asia. Source: UNDP

The Indian government's reported multidimensional poverty rate of 25.01% is much higher than the OPHI/UNDP estimate of 16.4%. NITI Ayog report released in November 2021 says: "India’s national MPI identifies 25.01 percent of the population as multidimensionally poor".

Multidimensional Poverty in India. Source: NITI Ayog via IIP

Earlier last year,  Global Hunger Index 2022 reported that  India ranks 107th for hunger among 121 nations. The nation fares worse than all of its South Asian neighbors except for war-torn Afghanistan ranked 109, according to the the report. Sri Lanka ranks 64, Nepal 81, Bangladesh 84 and Pakistan 99. India and Pakistan have levels of hunger that are considered serious. Both have slipped on the hunger charts from 2021 when India was ranked 101 and Pakistan 92. Seventeen countries, including Bosnia, China, Kuwait, Turkey and UAE, are collectively ranked between 1 and 17 for having a score of less than five.

Here's a video of Javed Akhtar's interview with Chetan Bhagat at ABP's "Ideas of India Summit 2023".  Please watch from 4:19 to 6:00 minutes."; title="YouTube video player" width="200"></iframe>" height="40" src="" width="200" style="cursor: move; background-color: #b2b2b2;" /> 

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