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Take India's hunger test. See how much you know

Sourjya Bhowmick | Updated on: 14 June 2015, 14:59 IST

These are not pretty numbers, but they need to be top of mind. There are perhaps no figures about India that are of greater importance.

According to the latest State of Food Security Report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), India has the highest number of hungry people in the world. This equals almost 15% of its total population.

Despite this stark reality, the Narendra Modi government has slashed the budget allocation for health and nutrition of children and mothers.

Sometimes there is a temptation to turn one's face away; see hunger as someone else's problem. But the issue of hunger and malnutrition snakes back and connects everyone in India in a chain of consequences: rich and poor.

There can be no demographic dividend, no growth figures can have any meaning until this phenomenon is tackled on a war footing.

It is both a moral, economic and social crisis.

Here's what the numbers have to say.


  • That's the number of undernourished people in India
  • This is more than the total population of Pakistan
  • Which means about 1 in every 6 people you see in India is hungry
  • A chronically undernourished person suffers from constant fatigue, headache, anxiety, weight loss and is more susceptible to diseases
Hunger, malnutrition


  • That's the number of undernourished people India added to its population in just two years, from 2012 to 2014
  • Can you imagine the total population of Ireland lacking access to food in two years?
  • While the number of hungry people in the world decreased by 26 lakhs in these two years, in India the number increased
  • India adopted the National Food Security Act during this period. The Act assured 5 kg of foodgrain per month at Rs 3 to 75% people in rural areas and 50% in urban areas
  • It met with a lot of resistance as an expenditure India could not afford



  • That's the amount that was allocated by the previous Congress government as subsidy for ensuring food security in 2013
  • Congress leader Raj Babbar created a furore when he said poverty figures were wrong because Rs 12 is enough to have a full meal in Mumbai. Another leader Rasheed Masood said Rs 5 was enough in Delhi
  • In 2014-15, India's food subsidy bill was half the amount spent that year on India's defence - Rs 2,29,000 crore



  • That's the amount allocated by the Modi government as food subsidy in Budget 2015 to provide foodgrains at affordable prices for the poor
  • It's more than what the UPA had committed
  • But the Modi government has cut funds for the crucial mid-day meal scheme - which provides free food to school-children - and the ICDS (Integrated Child Development scheme)


  • The proportion by which India has been able to reduce hunger from 1990 to 2015
  • The Millennium Development Goals target was to reduce hunger by half
  • Neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal have achieved this target, despite having a weaker economy and political instability


  • Or nearly 1 out of every 2 children in India, under the age of five, suffer from malnutrition
  • This is worse than Sub-Saharan Africa. Staggeringly, it also means 1 out of every 3 malnourished children in the world are from India
  • On the flipside, India is also the third most obese nation in the world
  • Malnutrition does not just mean the moral horror of hunger. It means stunted growth
  • So consider this: nearly half of India's children are doomed to a closed future. They will grow up physically, intellectually and emotionally stunted. Often, unfit for work


  • That's the number of children in India who die every year from malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization
  • This means more children die of malnutrition every year than the total number of people who voted for Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi in both their constituencies put together
  • India also has the maximum number of infant deaths globally
  • Malnutrition in children leads to diseases like tuberculosis, diarrhea and pneumonia, which creates the maximum child deaths


  • That's the number of children under 5 dying in Kerala per 1,000 live births. In other states, it's sometimes as high as 33
  • Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been successful in reducing malnutrition because they focussed on the nutrition of the girl child, and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)
  • Madhya Pradesh, which recently ran into controversy after banning eggs in ICDS centres, ranks the worst in under five mortality rates: 89 children die per 1,000 live births in the state


  • That's the number of women in India who suffer from anaemia - a direct consequence of malnutrition
  • This means more than half of India's women have low protein in their blood. They suffer from chronic weakness and deficiencies
  • Anaemic mothers means anaemic children: more than 70% of India's children are anaemic
Hunger, malnutrition 1


  • That's the number of food security programmes that exist in India. The global average is 27


  • This is how much the budget was slashed for the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) in this year's Budget
  • ICDS operates nearly 13 lakh anganwadi centres that provides food to more than 10 crore children and pregnant mothers
  • Funds for the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, which provides cooked meals to nearly 10 crore children in more than 11 lakh schools yearly, was also reduced by 30%
Hunger, malnutrition 2


  • That's the daily food deficit per person in India, according to the World Bank. In other words, this is the average calorie shortage in an Indian's daily diet
  • Most other comparable economies like Brazil (12), Mexico (32), Thailand (49) and Indonesia (59) have a much lower calorie deficit


  • India's rank out of 76 countries, according to the World Hunger Index, 2014

Illustrations: Itu Chaudhuri Design/Catch News. Photo credit: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg/Getty Images (right). Frank Bienewald/LightRocket/Getty Images (left)

First published: 14 June 2015, 14:59 IST
Sourjya Bhowmick @sourjyabhowmick

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