Follow Us:

Hunger amidst food security

Saumitra Mohan |

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is an extremely important tool for the measurement of hunger in 118 countries. It is designed to calibrate and track hunger on the basis of global, national, and regional parameters. Released every year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, GHI highlights the successes and failures in reduction of hunger and provides insights into the sociological and economic reasons for the blight. By bringing forth the multifarious nuances of hunger into public discourse, GHI strives to raise awareness and understanding of regional and national differences. Its objective is to reduce hunger to zero by 2030.

For 11 years, it has enabled national, regional and global analyses to track the effectiveness of hunger-mitigation policies and interventions in every participant country. The sustained and steady effort in this direction has resulted in significant alleviation in several countries. As per the 2016 GHI, the developing world bears witness to a 29 per cent reduction in hunger since 2000. This would mean that 68 countries that figure in the index are now in the “low” or “moderate” range of hunger. Conditions in the remaining 50 countries are a matter of grave concern. They are in the categories of “serious” or “alarming” levels of hunger.

While the GHI scores for the developing world in 2000 and 2016 were in the “serious category”, the earlier score was closer to being rated as alarming. However, the latest score is closer to the moderate category. Underlying this improvement are reductions since 2000 in each of the following GHI indicators, on which the rankings are based. The four component indicators that reflect the multi-dimensional nature of hunger include undernourishment, “child wasting” (low weight as per height), child stunting (low height as per age) and child mortality.

There are several advantages of measuring hunger by using this multidimensional approach. It reflects the nutrition level of not only the population as a whole, but also of children ~ a vulnerable segment of the population for whom a lack of dietary energy, protein, or micronutrients (essential vitamins and minerals) leads to a high risk of illness, poor physical and cognitive development, or death. It also combines independently measured indicators to reduce the effects of possible measurement errors.

The global averages mask dramatic differences among regions and countries. Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia have the highest 2016 GHI scores, at 30.1 and 29.0, respectively. Both reflect very acute levels of hunger.

In contrast, the GHI scores for East and Southeast Asia, Near East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States range between 7.8 and 12.8, and represent low or moderate levels of hunger. Although the GHI for 2016 has projected a positive outlook on the state of world hunger levels, it has also mentioned the uniform progress across regions. One positive development has been the 50 per cent or more reduction of GHI scores in 22 countries since 2000. Despite this, the developing world still remains in the “serious” category, signalling that efforts to reduce hunger must be accorded uppermost importance by policy-makers for achieving “zero hunger” by 2030.

In January 2016, the United Nations committed itself to achieve the same target in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), highlighting hunger as an increasingly important issue in its policy over the next 14 years. The GHI breaks hunger into four components, taking into account the factors of undernourishment, child wasting (low weight for height), child stunting (low height for age), and child mortality. Together, these measurements provide a greater depth of understanding of the issues that are at the core of world hunger and make the GHI an extremely useful tool for governments and NGOs in formulating policies and follow-through action.

The progress in terms of reducing hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa has been significant; it has decreased by 14.3 per cent since the beginning of the 21st century. Despite this positive outlook, the region remains the most affected by severe hunger, followed closely by South Asia. Projections suggest that the current rate of reduction in hunger will leave South Asia and SubSaharan Africa with GHI scores close to the divide between “moderate” or “serious” hunger by 2030. This means that efforts to reduce hunger in both these regions should be accorded the highest priority by the international community.

Surprisingly, the GHI has projected India in very poor light. It has underlined the stark divide between growth and hunger. Ranked at 97 out of 118 countries, India’s low ranking despite its high growth rate reveals that one in three children suffers from stunted growth and that 15 per cent of its population remains undernourished. Recent data shows that nearly 40 per cent of Indian children under five years of age are stunted compared to over 60 per cent in the early 1990s. India is slated to become the world’s most populous nation in just six years, and it is imperative that it ensures food security for the expected 1.4 billion Indians to lead healthy and successful lives. Going by the United Nations annual report for 2014- 15 released recently, India has the world’s highest number of hungry people in the world. The country has 194.6 million hungry people compared with 133.8 million in China… out of the total 795 million people in the world. In other words, one-fourth of the world’s hungry population lives in India. Low income levels, access to food and women’s nutrition remain areas of concern. Intra-national poverty, unemployment, lack of safe drinking water, poor sanitation, and lack of effective health care have combined to make a travesty of food security. There is, therefore, an urgent need to spend more money on health, education and social sector while ensuring higher levels of employment.

The GDP-led growth must ensure redistribution of national resources and equity across the regions. Almost identical expressions of concern have been raised for the rest of South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the developing world. Globally, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Zambia had the highest levels of hunger in the report.

An evaluation of the respective GHI indicators at the subnational or state levels reveals disparities within countries, both in terms of absolute values and changes over time. Variations in GHI indicator-values can exist within countries at all levels.

For example, in Zambia and Sierra Leone, GHI indicators vary widely within each country.Even if hunger declines at the same rate as it has since 1992, more than 45 countries including India, Pakistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Afghanistan will still have to face “moderate” to “alarming” hunger scores in the year 2030.

Some governments, aid agencies, and non-profit organizations use the GHI to support programme implementation and evaluation towards ending hunger and malnutrition. We need a development model which ensures high growth, distribution of wealth, creation of jobs, and a mix of technology so that a large number of people can benefit from the equitable allocation of resources.

Ending global hunger is certainly possible, but it devolves on all of us to set the priorities right to ensure that governments, the private sector and civil society comprehensively and diligently devote time and resources to attain this important objective for the benefit of the 795 million people suffering from food insecurity the world over.