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World Food Day: India home to 190 million hungry people

On World Food Day, observed to mark the foundation of the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945, here is a reality check for India.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2014 18:45 IST
Sourjya Bhowmick

On World Food Day, observed to mark the foundation of the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945, here is a reality check for India.

(a) 2012-14: India has around 190.7 million undernourished people, out of a total population of 1,252 million — a 15% prevalence rate.

(b) 2010-12: India had 188 million undernourished people, which means the number of undernourished people during 2012-14 increased by 2 million.

(c) Number of undernourished people in India was the highest in 2004 when it was 241 million.

World Food Day is observed in more than 150 countries, focusing on the need for action to eradicate poverty and hunger. By sheer numbers more people are going hungry in India than anywhere else. Here’s why.

India is home to 269 million people living below the poverty line, according to the Tendulkar methodology. This is more than the population of Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation.

Simply put, 269 million Indians do not have the money to buy food. This is the reason why India has the world’s biggest food security programme under which two-thirds of the country’s 1.2 billion population has the right to subsidised grains.

A look at India’s prevalence of undernourishment and depth of food deficit, as against BRICS and a few other comparator economies such as Mexico and Indonesia, shows the subcontinent giant is doing better, but only just.

For a quick analysis, take a look at the prevalence of undernourishment, and depth of food deficit.

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Undernourishment in India

Prevalence of undernourishment is officially adopted as an indicator of Millennium Development Goal. The numbers explain the probability that how many in the population consume insufficient amount of calories to lead a healthy life.

India’s 15% prevalence of total undernourishment is higher than the world average of 11.3%. India is doing better than the grouping of Least Developed countries that includes mostly African nations and only 9 Asian countries.

From 1994 to 2014, India showed a 21% reduction in the prevalence of undernourished people while least developed countries record 32% reduction.

Depth of Food Deficit

The depth of food deficit indicates the calories required to lift the undernourished from their status. It is calculated by considering the difference between the average dietary energy requirement and the average dietary energy consumption of the undernourished population, which is then multiplied by the total number of undernourished.

Here too India comes second only to the least developed countries. (see graphics above)

However, India’s has seen only 9% improvement from 1994-2014 as against a 26% improvement recorded by the world’s least developed countries.