The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally, regionally, and by country. Each year, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) calculates GHI scores in order to assess progress, or the lack thereof, in decreasing hunger. The GHI is designed to raise awareness and understanding of regional and country differences in the struggle against hunger. Excerpts from the latest report:
Hunger is a multidimensional problem, and a variety of terms are used to describe its different aspects. To reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger, the GHI combines the following four component indicators into one index:
UNDERNOURISHMENT: the proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of the population (reflecting the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake);
CHILD WASTING: the proportion of children under the age of five who suffer from wasting (that is, low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition);
CHILD STUNTING: the proportion of children under the age of five who suffer from stunting (that is, low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition); and
CHILD MORTALITY: the mortality rate of children under the age of five (partially reflecting the fatal synergy of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments).
The 2015 GHI has been calculated for 117 countries for which data on the four component indicators are available and where measuring hunger is considered most relevant. GHI scores are not calculated for some higher-income countries where the prevalence of hunger is very low.
The global averages mask dramatic differences among regions and countries. Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia have the highest 2015 GHI scores, at 32.2 and 29.4 respectively. Both reflect serious 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 8.0 and 13.2, and represent low or moderate levels of hunger.
In terms of absolute change, Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia have experienced the greatest improvements from the 2000 GHI to the 2015 GHI, with reductions of 12.4 and 8.8 points, respectively. East and Southeast Asia also reduced its GHI score by a sizeable amount, 7.4 points since the 2000 GHI. The Near East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States reduced their GHI scores by 4.4 to 5.8 points, despite already having the lowest 2000 GHI scores.
In terms of the percentage change since the 2000 GHI, two regions—Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States and Latin America and the Caribbean—experienced declines of just over 40 percent. East and Southeast Asia was not far behind, with a reduction of 36 percent. Africa south of the Sahara and the Near East and North Africa each reduced their GHI scores by 28 percent. Since 2000, South Asia’s GHI score dropped 23 percent. Given that the hunger level for Africa south of the Sahara stagnated between 1990 and 1995, it is notable that its GHI score has declined at a rate comparable to other regions’ rates since 2000.
South Asia’s GHI score declined at a moderate rate between 1990 and 2000, but then progress stalled between 2000 and 2005 before hunger levels dropped again between 2005 and 2015. This closely follows the trend of GHI scores for India, where nearly three-quarters of South Asia’s population lives. The decrease of more than 8 points in South Asia’s GHI score since 2005 may be largely attributed to recent successes in the fight against child undernutrition in India. According to the most recent data from India, wasting in children fell from 20 percent to 15 percent between 2005–2006 and 2013–2014, and stunting fell from 48 percent to 39 percent in the same period (IIPS and Macro International 2007; India, Ministry of Women and Child Development, and UNICEF 2014).
Programs and initiatives launched by India’s central and state governments in the past decade seem to have made a difference for child nutrition. The government of India has scaled up nutrition-specific interventions over the past decade, including (1) a final drive to expand the Integrated Child Development Services program that aims to improve the health, nutrition, and development of children in India; and (2) the creation of the National Rural Health Mission, a community-based health initiative designed to deliver essential health services to rural India.
However, progress in reducing child undernutrition has been uneven across India’s states. While the reasons for the improvements—or lack thereof—are not entirely clear, one factor that seems to correlate with undernutrition in India is open defecation, which contributes to illnesses that prevent the absorption of nutrients. Additionally, the low social status of women, which affects women’s health and nutrition, makes it more likely that babies will be born underweight.
Africa south of the Sahara has the highest 2015 GHI score, at 32.2. Overall, since 2000, the region has experienced strong economic growth. It has also benefitted from advances in public health, including lower transmission levels and better treatment of HIV/AIDS, and fewer cases and deaths from malaria. In some countries, such as Angola, Ethiopia, and Rwanda, the large-scale civil wars of the 1990s and 2000s have ended. These countries have become more politically stable and hunger levels have fallen substantially.
On the other hand, countries such as the Central African Republic and Chad have experienced conflict more recently and also have experienced higher levels of hunger, although the causes of hunger are complex and cannot be attributed to conflict alone. Despite improvements, the high levels of hunger in Africa south of the Sahara, both regionally and in individual countries, are still cause for concern.
An issue of vital importance to Africa south of the Sahara is the link between agriculture and nutrition. More than two-thirds of the region’s population relies on agriculture for income, including more than 90 percent of the region’s extreme poor. Yet the area’s agricultural productivity levels are the lowest of any region in the world. The solutions for Africa will undoubtedly be complex, in part because ecological conditions and social circumstances vary throughout the continent. As part of the fight against hunger, organizations at all levels must continue to find ways to improve agricultural productivity, along with dietary diversity and environmental sustainability, in order to benefit the most vulnerable.
The end of the Cold War, the adoption of international human rights norms, and the rise of globalization are among the key factors that make it possible to eliminate famine for the first time in history. Governments no longer wield the grotesque sovereign privilege to starve their people and tell the rest of the world to mind its own business. Unparalleled global prosperity and interconnectedness, the legitimacy of international concern over domestic violations, and far more information- sharing mean people are less likely to starve in silence because their rulers, or the international community, do not know what is going on.
And the single most important reason an end to famine is within reach? China, once the “land of famine”, which suffered more than 80 million famine deaths between 1870 and 1970, or more than half of the global total of 149 million such deaths, has been free of that scourge for half a century.
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