Photo Credit: IFPRI

The 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI), released today, reports that between 2000 and 2016, hunger levels around the world declined by 27 percent. While impressive, however, this progress should not mask the remaining food security challenges faced at the global, national, and sub-national levels. In 2017, South Sudan declared a state of famine – the first instance of famine in the world in six years. Three other countries – Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria – also faced imminent famine in 2017, putting a total of 20 million people worldwide at risk of starving to death. This situation highlights the urgent work that remains to be done if we are to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

The GHI, jointly published by Concern Worldwide, Welthungerhilfe, and IFPRI, tracks hunger at the country, regional, and global levels to assess progress in combatting hunger. The 2017 GHI contains data for 119 countries, excluding most high-income countries, and is based on four indicators: undernourishment (the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake), child wasting (the proportion of children under the age of five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition), child stunting (the proportion of children under the age of five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition), and child mortality (the mortality rate of children under the age of five). The hunger levels for countries and regions are categorized as either low, moderate, serious, alarming or extremely alarming.

In the 2017 GHI, only one ranked country – the Central Africa Republic (CAR) – falls into the extremely alarming range. Seven countries fall into the alarming range, while 44 are ranked as serious and 24 are ranked as moderate. However, these statistics could be understating the extent of the problem, as thirteen countries – including Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria – were unable to be ranked due to a lack of sufficient data. The report points out that while these countries were not able to be ranked, their hunger and undernutrition situations remain cause for significant concern. Two of the four countries currently facing famine (South Sudan and Somalia) are among those not included in this year’s GHI, and other data and early warnings systems, such as the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS Net), have highlighted the extreme levels of hunger in these countries.

Despite these areas of concern, the report highlights several positive overall trends. Between 2000 and 2017, the share of the world’s population that is undernourished fell from 18.2 percent to 13 percent. Child stunting rates declined by 10 percent, child wasting fell by 0.4 percent, and child mortality declined by 3.5 percent.

While the world has seen a long-term trend of declining hunger, however, global hunger levels remain high. South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara are the regions with the highest levels of hunger according to the 2017 GHI. In South Asia, child undernutrition (both wasting and stunting) rates are higher than in any other region, while in Africa, child mortality and overall undernourishment are higher than in any other region, suggesting higher overall calorie deficiencies in the general population.

Country-level results vary similarly. Over the past 17 years, 14 countries succeeded in reducing their GHI scores by more than 50 percent, while 72 countries reduced their score by between 25 and 49.9 percent. However, during the same period, however, CAR’s score did not change at all. Similarly, hunger can be localized; while Nigeria as a whole is relatively food secure, with a GHI score of 25.5 out of 100, 4.5 million people in Nigeria’s northeastern region are currently experiencing or at risk of famine. Identifying and understanding these national and sub-national differences is crucial in ensuring that hunger reduction is achieved equitably and that vulnerable populations are not left behind.

Inequality forms a major theme in this year’s Global Hunger Index. Populations with less social, economic, and political power (such as women, ethnic minorities, rural populations, and poor populations) are often more at risk from conflict and climate change and suffer more from hunger and malnutrition. This inequality can be due to underlying unequal societal norms, as well as to the fact that these populations do not have the ability to influence food and agricultural policies. To address these inequalities, the GHI puts forth several policy recommendations for national governments, the global private sector, and international organizations.

First, more democratic governance in national and international food systems is needed. Policymakers need to ensure that marginalized and under-represented populations are included in the policy debate surrounding food and agriculture and that freedoms of assembly, protest, and access to information are respected. Similarly, international organizations should focus on including grassroots people’s movements and civil society actors are active participants in the development and implementation of food security interventions.

In addition, strong regulatory frameworks need to be established to ensure that citizens, particularly members of vulnerable populations, are not harmed by the potentially negative effects of global agricultural trade. Policymakers also need to ensure that all actors (from both private and public sector) live up to international human rights and environmental standards.

The GHI also highlights the need for increased support for smallholder farmers, particularly women, and increased access to education and social safety net programs for vulnerable populations. Policies and development programs also need to take into account how inequalities – such as discriminatory gender norms – impact people’s food security status; this analysis of power needs to take place across multiple sectors, including trade, agriculture, and land policies.

Reducing both inequality and hunger also requires understanding these trends. The GHI calls for increased collection and more transparent sharing of timely, relevant food security- and nutrition security-related data among national governments and international organizations. Finally, the report calls for increased investment in the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in low-income countries. Specifically, it suggests that donors will need to contribute 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) to official development assistance, as well as 0.15–0.2 percent of GNI to Least-Developed Countries to help them achieve the SDGs.

Listen to an interview about the latest GHI findings from Rob Vos, Division Director of IFPRI's Markets, Trade and Institutions Division.
By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

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