Since 2000 the developing world has made substantial progress in reducing hunger. According to the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI), the world’s overall ‘hunger score’ has fallen by 29% while 22 countries have reduced their score by 50% or more.
But progress has been uneven. The report shows that there are still 50 countries with ‘serious’ or ‘alarming’ hunger levels. Nearly 800 million people are still chronically undernourished. Around one in four children under the age of five is stunted (low height for their age) and, around one in 12 suffers from wasting (low weight for their age). It is also estimated that undernutrition still causes almost half of all child deaths globally.
Last year the UN set out its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change. UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #2 is to end hunger and eliminate malnutrition by 2030. Fast and focused action is needed if we are to meet this goal, because, as the 2016 Hunger Index shows, the current rate of progress is simply too slow.
The Global Hunger Index covers 118 countries in the developing world
The GHI is published each year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and provides a useful tool for tracking and measuring progress in tackling hunger at global, regional and country levels in a consistent and systematic way. Covering 118 countries in the developing world, the Index looks at undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality rates, drawing on data from the WHO, the UN FAO and UNICEF. Scores are on a scale of 0–100, with a score of 10 or less indicating low levels of hunger, 20 and above ‘serious’, 35 and over ‘alarming’ and above 50 ‘extremely alarming’ levels of hunger.
Thankfully, none of the countries in this year’s Index falls within that final category, for the second year running. Nevertheless, and despite good progress in areas such as reducing undernourishment – down from 18.5% to 13.1% globally – serious problems remain. In all, seven countries still have ‘alarming’ levels of hunger, with the Central African Republic posting the highest score at 46.1, closely followed by Chad on 44.3. A further 43 countries, including populous countries with fast-growing economies such as India, Nigeria and Indonesia, fall into the ‘serious’ category.
Taking a regional view, the highest hunger levels are found in Africa south of the Sahara (GHI 30.1) and in South Asia (GHI 29). However, it is important not to generalise, as major disparities occur within regions and even within individual countries: so while Latin America has the lowest regional GHI score, Haiti has ‘alarming’ hunger levels and while Mexico has a low overall score but contains areas of relatively high child stunting. It is also worth noting that data could not be obtained for 13 countries, including Syria and South Sudan. Of these, 10 are thought to be cause for significant concern.
“The root causes of hunger are complex and closely related to the effects of global warming as well as reflecting underlying structural issues such as conflict, inefficient agricultural practices and economic policies that preserve and even deepen inequalities, rather than reducing them.”
Clearly, there is work to be done if we are to succeed in meeting SDG2. The UN’s stated ambition is to eliminate hunger and malnutrition through improved food security, better nutrition and sustainable agriculture. Achieving ‘zero hunger’ is fundamental to its overall agenda to integrate the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development globally.
But if hunger continues to decline at the same rate as the report finds it has since 1992, more than 45 countries – including India, Pakistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Afghanistan – will still have ‘moderate’ to ‘alarming’ hunger scores in the year 2030. As IFPRI Director General, Shenggen Fan, puts it, ‘countries must accelerate the pace at which they are reducing hunger or we will fail’.
The report is clear that the root causes of hunger are complex and closely related to the effects of global warming as well as reflecting underlying structural issues such as conflict, inefficient agricultural practices and economic policies that preserve and even deepen inequalities, rather than reducing them. Tackling these root causes will demand a committed, inclusive and rigorous approach, for which good data is an absolutely vital starting point. Further research is needed to properly understand anomalies within regions and within individual countries so that efforts can be focused on speeding up progress in those areas – large or small – of greatest need.
Zero Hunger challenge provides good opportunity to collaborate
A willingness to innovate and to be open to new ways of collaborating is essential too, and there are some good examples already in place such as the Zero Hunger Challenge, launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2012. This provides a platform where governments and UN agencies, research institutions and individuals can come together and take direct action to end hunger and malnutrition for all by 2030. Similarly, IFPRI’s Compact2025 is a global knowledge and innovation hub for sharing evidence-based, action-oriented strategies to support SDG2.
But perhaps most important of all is the need for ownership and engagement. If it is to succeed, the 2030 Agenda must be owned by citizens, communities, local and national governments, civil society at all levels and enterprises of all sizes – and that means putting aside short-term gain, whether military, political or financial.
As Dominic MacSorley of Concern Worldwide puts it, ‘We have the technology, knowledge and resources to achieve the vision. What is missing is both the urgency and the political will to turn commitments into action.’ It is a call to action we cannot afford to ignore.
Summary of key positives and negatives
- 29% decrease in GHI scores across the developing world since 2000
- 22 countries have reduced their GHI score by > 50% since 2000
- 5.4% reduction in proportion of population who are undernourished since 2000
- 3.5% reduction in under-5 mortality rate since 2000
- GHI score for the developing world as a whole is still ‘serious’ at 21.3
- At least a quarter of the population is malnourished in 20 countries
- Seven countries still have GHI scores of 35+, including two – the Central African Republic and Chad – with scores well over 40
- Hunger in Haiti is at an ‘alarming’, despite it being located in Latin America, the region with the lowest GHI score
About International Food Policy Research Institute
The IFPRI was established in 1975 to provide research-based, sustainable policy solutions to reducing poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in developing countries. IFPRI’s research focuses on six key areas – sustainable food production, healthy food systems, markets and trade, agriculture, building resilience, and promoting good governance – as it works towards its vision of a world free of hunger and malnutrition.
The Global Hunger Index
- Published each year by IFPRI
- Provides information on undernourishment, child wasting, stunting and mortality rates in 118 developing countries
- Uses data from the WHO, the UN FAO and UNICEF
- Scores range from 0–100, with a score of 10 or less indicating low levels of hunger, 20 and above ‘serious’, 35 and over ‘alarming’ and above 50 ‘extremely alarming’ levels of hunger