Hunger: A Serious Problem under Contemporary Capitalism
THIS month the International Food Policy Research Institute has released the Global Hunger Index, 2015. The index clearly shows that even though the levels of hunger have declined since the turn of the last century, the number of hungry people in the world remains enormously large particularly in Africa, South of the Saharas and South Asia. Worldwide, the Food and Agriculture Organisation projects that there are 795 million hungry people, ie, one in every nine persons is hungry. 161 million (or one in every four) children are stunted and nearly half of the child deaths take place due to malnutrition. The release of this data at this political conjecture as world leaders negotiate the withdrawal of agricultural subsidies in the WTO negotiations which are likely to have a particularly negative impact on food security, is significant. This clearly shows that the crisis of contemporary capitalism is having a devastating impact on ordinary working people and this situation is likely to worsen if the current trends of declining employment and real wages are maintained.
METHODOLOGY ADOPTED BY
GLOBAL HUNGER INDEX
Though in common parlance, hunger is associated with the lack of food, the Global Hunger Index studies hunger in a more multi-dimensional way with four different dimensions. The first is ‘undernourishment’ or the proportion of population whose consumption is less than 1800 calories per day - the minimum most people require for a healthy and productive life. The second dimension is ‘child wasting’ or proportion of children under the age of five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute under nutrition. The third parameter used is ‘child stunting’ or proportion of children under the age of five who have a low height for their age reflecting chronic under nutrition and finally under five ‘child mortality’ reflecting the fatal synergy of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments (Global Hunger Index 2015 (hereafter GHI), p.7). While scoring, both child mortality and under nutrition are given equal weightage (that is a weightage of one third) whereas child wasting and stunting is given a combined weightage of one third under the category of ‘child malnutrition’. Based on these parameters, the GHI has been calculated for 117 countries. These countries are given a score on a 50 point scale on the basis of which the hunger levels in these nations are classified as ‘low’ (or a score of 0-9.9); ‘moderate’ (or a score of 10-19.9); ‘serious’ (countries scoring 20-34.9); ‘alarming’ (countries scoring 35-49.9) and ‘extreme’ (a score of 50). It is believed that such a methodology of scoring will reflect an adequate picture at the global, regional and national levels.
DIVERSE TRENDS & DISPARITIES
IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
The findings of GHI, 2015 show that though none of the countries can be classified in the category of ‘alarming’ and ‘extreme’, the world hunger situation remains serious (with an overall score of 21.1). Along with this, the index also highlights the disparities within regions reflecting the wide inequalities within the world. These disparities are reflected in the GHI calculated over the last two and a half decades between 1990 and 2015:
Regional Disparities in GHI of Developing World
Global Hunger Index Scores on 50 point Scale
Africa South of Sahara
East and South East Asia
Near East and North Africa
Eastern Europe and Commonwealth of Independent Nations
Latin America and the Caribbean
Note: GHI scores for years before 2015 are recalculated and adjusted according to 2015 methodology.
The table above shows that world hunger trends are driven by inequalities and hunger in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia throughout the two and a half decades between 1990-2015, even though the project rate of decline of hunger, according to this index, is higher than the world average. Thus while hunger in the world declined by 30.8 percent between 1990-2015 it declined by 31.8 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa and approximately 38.4 percent in South Asia. After the year 2000 however, the rate of decline of hunger in South Asia (23.3 percent) is much lower than Sub Saharan Africa (27.7 percent) and the rest of the world (27.4 percent). In the last decade however this rate of decline has slowed down even more with the world hunger declining by 22.2 percent between 2005 and 2015 and the hunger in South Asia declining by 21 percent and Sub Saharan Africa by 19 percent in the same period. This clearly shows that the crisis of capitalism has impacted on the state of world’s hunger.
While the index has attempted to highlight an increased rate of decline in hunger in South Asia, the individual ranking of South Asian countries remains quite abysmal as shown in the table below:
Hunger Index of South Asian Countries
Global Hunger Index Scores on 50 point Scale
GHI Ranking 2015
Total Number of Countries Listed
As the table above shows, India is only above Pakistan in terms of declining hunger rates even in South Asia. Even poorer countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are performing better than India in this matter. Further, it is to be noted that all countries in South Asia fall well below the world average and rank in the bottom half of the index. As per these figures, hunger declined by 39.7 percent between 1990 and 2015 in India. This decline was projected to be the fastest in the last decade (ie, by 24.6 percent), which is higher than the South Asian average of 21.8 percent but significantly lower than the world average of 27.4 percent. In fact India compares poorly with a country like Nepal which has a rate of decline of about 30 percent in the same period. This trend also contrasts with that of Bangladesh which experiences a much higher rate of decline in the period 1990-2005 (40.9 percent) as compared with India’s 19.9 percent in the same period, but has slowed down significantly in the last decade. Both Bangladesh and Pakistan have comparable rates of declining hunger of about 12 percent. Thus even though India appears to be performing better than some South Asian countries in the last decade, it has a long way to go before it achieves reduction in malnutrition and levels of hunger.
These figures show that universal social security and public distribution systems are urgently needed even today. However, the policy direction of the government is unmindful of these concerns and seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Hence, with all its limitations, the Global Hunger Index 2015 once again highlights the need for intensifying the fight against a neo-liberal State.