October 18, 2021
True hunger or imagination?
To: either/view subscribers
Good morning. LEGO goes gender-neutral. The world-famous Danish toy manufacturer said it will work to remove gendered marketing, i.e., marketing toys distinctly to boys and girls. The news comes in the wake of a study commissioned by LEGO on how parents and children view creativity. It showed boys feel more pressure to conform to gender roles and norms.
📰 FEATURE STORY
India’s Rank in the Global Hunger Index
When the boy cried “wolf”, the villagers were quick to bring up his pathological tendencies before registering the disappearance of their own flock due to the wolf attack. This time we have two boys, one crying “unscientific methodology” while the other cries “hunger”. The Centre claims that India’s current ranking in the Global Hunger Index is based on complete hogwash despite the peer-reviewed annual report’s general reputation of being otherwise. While those claims might have some footing in the real world, the growing trend of the Centre rubbishing reports definitely doesn’t help. Is this just another instance of the Global North talking down to us or are we soon to wake up to a disappearing flock ourselves?
On Thursday, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) launched their annual report where India came in at 101 out of a total of 116 countries. India was also put in a group with 31 other countries, where the hunger crisis is considered to be “serious”. Even most of our neighbours did better on the GHI scale with Pakistan at 92, Nepal and Bangladesh at 76, and Sri Lanka at 65. It’s pretty safe to say that our authorities were not happy about that. With only 15 other countries doing worse than us, the government brought up some strong concerns about the validity of the entire report.
It didn’t take them too long to do that either. Literally the next day, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) said that the report “suffers from serious methodological issues”. Considering that India had dropped seven spots in the span of a year – India had ranked 94 in 2020 – the Ministry called this “shocking” and “devoid of ground reality.” Of course, it didn’t take too long for one of the co-publishers of the report, German non-profit Welthungerhilfe (WHH), to dispute those allegations in an attempt to preserve the GHI’s sanctity. So with all these fingers getting pointed around, which finger do we follow?
The report that cried “hunger”
Our government is very sure that the GHI has based their findings on a “four-question opinion poll”. The GHI uses data provided by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The acquisition of that data is what the government doesn’t trust. According to them, the polls were carried out “telephonically” by Gallup, an American company known for their worldwide public opinion polls. In fact, the distrust goes so deep that Minister for WCD Smriti Irani even told the parliament in March that the GHI was flawed as an “opinion poll” does not have proper basis in scientific research.
The GHI values are determined on four indicators – undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. The specific indicator that the WCD is after is “undernourishment”. The ministry claims that a scientifically ratified measurement of undernourishment would require the “measurement of weight and height” of enough of the population to properly represent it. This would obviously be missing from the reports as it primarily depends on secondary data, retrieved from the “Gallup poll” on a “telephonic estimate of the population”.
Despite India’s numbers on child wasting (when a child has “low weight for their height”) and child stunting (when a child has “low height for their age”) remaining the same, India’s rank was somehow worse. This along with India’s child mortality rate actually improving over the years, only adds to the ministry’s doubts regarding the report. Since the ministry believes that all these components are interdependent, they together should have given India a better rank but the reports say otherwise. They also bring up that these indicators aren’t exclusively connected to hunger, thus, seem rather irrelevant to the matter at hand.
The GHI, according to the ministry, also does not regard “the government’s massive effort to ensure food security of the entire population”. According to them, the government has launched several measures like the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna, the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme and the PM Kisan scheme to counter food scarcity. This, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, has done a lot to secure food grains for the people. Which brings us to their “expressed surprise” on other countries’ alleged improvement, especially our neighbours, as they seem to be unaffected by economic tensions of the pandemic as per the report.
More than an “opinion poll”
Responding to the ministry’s claims, GHI Advisor Miriam Weimers said, “The FAO’s telephone-based opinion indicator – the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) – is not used in the GHI. The GHI uses the prevalence of undernourishment indicator, which is assessed by FAO using Food Balance Sheet data from each country.” The Food Balance Sheet shows the source of each food and where it’s being used, offering a “comprehensive picture” of a country’s patterns in food supply.
This brings us to the undernourishment indicator, that Weimers says, has been gravely misunderstood by the ministry. The statement from the WCD insinuates that “undernourishment” and “undernutrition” can be used interchangeably. Undernourishment, according to Weimers, “is a measure of the proportion of the population with inadequate access to calories and is based on data regarding the food supply in the country.” Based on this definition, the FAO’s Food Balance Sheet data provides enough information necessary to draw valid conclusions.
Undernutrition, on the other hand, is where the height and weight of children below the age of five would come into play. In the GHI scale, undernutrition can be measured in the “child wasting” and “child stunting” categories, both of which currently show India’s unchanged values compared to the 2020 report. The ministry was also mistaken in saying that the undernourishment performance of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka have improved. In fact, it was the “prevalence of undernourishment” that had increased in those countries’ numbers which is exactly the opposite of what was claimed by the WCD.
Finally, this isn’t the GHI’s first rodeo either. The organisation has been in contact with the Indian government, especially the WCD, about the data and methodology used in coming up with the values concerned. According to Weimers, “The methodology has long been established and tested. The international community – including India – has agreed upon the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the GHI uses indicators that are part of the internationally recognised indicator set to measure [their] progress.” Thus, while the indicators might seem unnecessary to the WCD, the rationale for using them still stands.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Is it yet an era for Dalit leadership?
For the Left:
Sita Ram Goel: The man who exposed Nehruvian fallacies and won our hearts with his mind
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
PETA award for minister (Meghalaya) – The state’s Environment and Forest Minister James Sangma was awarded the Progressive Business Concept Award from PETA for his work promoting vegan pineapple leather. In addition to this, he also had plans to open a climate change museum and to include the topic in school curricula. Given the level of greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture, PETA India lauded Sangma’s advocacy in tackling climate change.
Rescuing cotton crops (Punjab) – Cotton crops are often subject to insects threatening to ravage them. It’s what happened to 70% of Bathinda’s cotton crop due to the Pink Bollworm (PBW). However, plots containing the crop at Punjab Agricultural University’s (PAU) had negligible damage. The reason being a paste that releases synthetic pheromones that prevents these insects from mating. Punjab Agriculture Minister Randeep Singh Nabha said this will be adopted from April, the next cotton season.
Survey on Christian missionary work (Karnataka) – To identify unauthorised people working in the state, a committee of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly on backward classes and minorities will order a survey on Christian missionary work. The state is seen as a testing ground for the BJP to introduce an anti-conversion law. The past couple of months have seen incidents of right-wing groups disrupting prayer meetings of Christian groups alleging conversions taking place there. Depending on how things go here, other BJP-ruled states might follow suit.
Villagers denied compensation (Odisha) – Mining can often affect the lives of people in the broader locality of the mine. That’s the case in the foothills of Gandhamardan Iron Ore Mines. For the villagers in Salarapenth, a small remote village in the Keonjhar district, they have decided to take matters into their own hands. Their efforts to gain compensation have been in vain. Now, they’re putting their livelihoods on the line and blocking roads near the mine as a protest. With their lands sold to the companies, their demands have fallen on deaf ears.
Demand for pharma courses (Gujarat) – In light of the COVID pandemic, there has been an increase in students taking undergraduate pharmacy courses. With an intake of 6,250 seats, 5,538 were taken in 2019-20. In 2020-21, it increased to 5,883 seats against an intake of 6494 seats. Normally vacant seats have now been filled. The demand is high in the healthcare sector as pharma companies were amongst the few that didn’t shut operations as lockdowns were imposed. It’s because people have seen, often first-hand, the importance of the sector.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$590 million – The amount paid by ransomware victims to their attackers in the first half of 2021 in USA. The data was released as part of a report titled “Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network” (FinCEN), released by the US Treasury Department. Overall, it stated that ransomware attacks are an increasing threat to the financial sector and businesses.