That’s according to the recently published Global Hunger Index (GHI), which ranks India 100 out of the 119 countries surveyed. That’s seven notches below North Korea, and seven notches above the bottom of the list, which is occupied by Afghanistan.
The index includes four components: undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting, and child stunting. The survey finds a “disturbing reality of the country’s stubbornly high proportions of malnourished children” for India.
Apparently, Modi’s magic hasn’t touched India’s hungry children, at least not in a meaningful way.
High levels of hunger among children is a sign of persistent poverty in one of the world’s largest emerging market economies that has experienced rapid economic growth and booming equity markets in recent years.
Investors should pay close attention to it. Persistent poverty together with corruption is two factors that eventually kill emerging market growth and dampen equity market rallies.
High levels of child hunger in Modi’s India may come as a surprise to some. Modi’s Administration has been getting high marks from international organizations in a number of metrics. Like international competitiveness, ease of doing business, innovation, and credit rating, as was previously discussed here.
To be fair, persistent hunger among children is a chronic problem for India. And it is part of a bigger problem of rising income inequality in the country.
That’s well documented in the Thomas Piketty study, which finds that the gap between the rich and the poor today is worse than it was under British rule.
Apparently, children’ health, nutrition, and education haven’t been a priority for India’s upper or upper middle classes, which rule the country. “Policymaking is still dominated by upper-class or upper-middle-class people,” says LIU Post Economics Professor Udayan Roy.“They are interested in superficial aspects of national glories, such as sending a spacecraft to Mars. The upper classes are not interested so much in the health, nutrition, and education of the poor people. When I talk to my family people, they are bragging about their 4G mobile phones, they are bragging that they holidayed in Thailand, etc. When I talk about the statistics about the poor, they change the subject.”
Religious beliefs may be a problem here, too. “The Hindu religion takes a fatalistic view of these things: whatever is the current reality is irrelevant,” adds Professor Roy. “Just keep the gods happy. Then you will be reincarnated into a better life later. There is not much of an interest in making life better NOW.”
Still, child hunger rates have fallen under the Modi administration. And plans are underway to eliminate malnourishment by 2022.
But Modi has much more work to do to make sure that poverty doesn’t undermine its reforms.