Emerging Global Power and Hunger

Deepankar Basu

The Global Hunger Index (GHI), calculated by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), ranks countries on a 100-point scale, with zero being the best score having no hunger and 100 being the worst. This index gives an indication of how successful the country has been, relative to others, in dealing with the extremely important problem of hunger of the vast majority of its citizens.

Why use such an index? This is how the IFPRI website explains the rationale for calculating the Global Hunger Index:

Countries can gauge their economic performance by looking at gross domestic product, but to assess their progress on fighting hunger, they must usually consider a multitude of indicators. To provide a simple way of ranking countries and illustrating trends in hunger worldwide, IFPRI developed a Global Hunger Index (GHI). The index captures three dimensions of hunger: insufficient availability of food, shortfalls in the nutritional status of children, and child mortality. Using data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the index ranks countries on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best score (no hunger) and 100 being the worst. By highlighting this information, the index is designed to help mobilize political will and promote effective policies for combating hunger.

The recently released figures of the Global Hunger Index for 2009 says that countries that have scored between 20 and 30 points are in an alarming condition. What is India’s score? 23.90!

There is more. India is ranked 65 in a group of 88 countries. Countries like Uganda (which is ranked 38th), Mauritania (with a rank of 40) and Zimbabwe ( which is ranked 58th) and many others have a better record than India on this front. To see what this means let us do some simple comparisons between India and Zimbabwe.

In 2008, India’s GDP was 3.304 trillion $ (PPP); Zimbabwe’s GDP in 2008 was 1.925 billion $ (PPP). Thus, in terms of the total market value of goods and services produced in 2008, India was 1716 times richer than Zimbabwe. Of course India has a much bigger population which needs to be taken account of if the comparison is to be meaningful. So let us look at GDP per person: India, in 2008, had a GDP per capita of 2,900 $ (PPP); Zimbabwe, in 2008, had a GDP per capita of 200 $ (PPP). Thus, Zimbabwe is about 14 times poorer than India in terms of the market value of goods and services it produces annually, even after taking account of population differences, but it has been better able to deal with the problem of hunger! Shouldn’t Indian policy makers be proud of themselves?

Now compare this to a set of figures, from the World Wealth Report, that had been released a few days ago: in 2009, India had 52 billionaires, with the richest, Mukesh Ambani, having a net worth of $ 32 billion. The combined net worth of the richest 100 Indians in 2009 was US$ 276 billion; their Chinese counterparts had a combined net worth of US$ 170 billion. To make the comparison meaningful recall that China’s GDP in 2008 was $ 7.992 trillion (PPP) while India’s GDP in 2008 was only $ 3.304 trillion (PPP): wealth is far more concentrated at the top in India than it is in China (the other emerging super power).

Let me summarize: (1) compared to most other countries in the world, the condition of the poor in India is abysmal; a simple comparison is the rank by the Global Hunger Index (GHI); according to the 2009 GHI, India is far worse than Zimbabwe in terms of hunger; (2) compared to most other countries in the world, the position and weight of the super rich in India has “improved” beyond imagination; this is captured nicely by the fact that wealth is far more concentrated at the top in India than it is in China, the fastest growing country in the world.

Doesn’t this give a good illustration of how India is emerging as a new global power?

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