Global Hunger Index 2017: The inequalities of hunger
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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. 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. 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.

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. Three-quarters of South Asia’s population resides in India, which strongly influences South Asia’s regional score. At 31.4, India’s 2017 GHI score is at the high end of the serious category. According to 2015–2016 survey data, more than a fifth (21 percent) of children in India suffer from wasting and this has not drastically improved over the past 25 years. The report notes that two programs addressing nutrition (the Integrated Child Development Services and the National Health Mission) do not yet have sufficient coverages. Ongoing challenges include: the timely introduction of complementary foods for young children declined from 52.7 percent to 42.7 percent between 2006 and 2016; the share of children between 6 and 23 months old who receive an adequate diet is only 9.6 percent for the country; and household access to improved sanitation facilities remains only 48.4 percent (Menon et al. 2017).

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.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr, ADB