The developing world has made substantial progress in reducing hunger since 2000. The 2016 Global Hunger Index (GHI) shows that the level of hunger in developing countries as a group has fallen by 29 percent. Yet this progress has been uneven, and great disparities in hunger continue to exist at the regional, national, and subnational levels. To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) of getting to Zero Hunger while leaving no one behind, it is essential to identify the regions, countries, and populations that are most vulnerable to hunger and undernutrition so progress can be accelerated there.
Across regions and countries, GHI scores vary considerably. Regionally, the highest GHI scores, and therefore the highest hunger levels, are still found in Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia. Although GHI scores for these two regions have declined over time, the current levels are still on the upper end of the serious category, closer to the alarming category than to the moderate. Further, although Africa south of the Sahara has achieved the largest absolute improvement since 2000 and South Asia has also seen a sizable reduction, the decline in hunger must accelerate in these regions if the world is to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030.
Levels of hunger are serious or alarming in 50 countries. Most of the seven countries with alarming GHI scores are in Africa south of the Sahara. While no countries are classified in the extremely alarming category this year, this high level of hunger quite possibly could still exist. Due to insufficient data, 2016 GHI scores could not be calculated for 13 countries; however, based on available data, as well as the available information from international organizations that specialize in hunger and malnutrition, and the existing literature, 10 of these countries are identified as cause for significant concern:
Burundi, the Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and the Syrian Arab Republic. In the absence of GHI scores, it is critical to analyze the available food security and nutrition data to understand the situation in these countries to the greatest extent possible, particularly given that levels of child undernutrition and child mortality in some of these countries are among the highest in the world.
From the 2000 GHI to the 2016 GHI, 22 countries reduced their scores by 50 percent or more. The three that achieved the biggest percentage reductions in hunger of all the countries in the serious and alarming categories are Myanmar, Rwanda, and Cambodia, with 2016 GHI scores for each country down by just over 50 percent relative to the 2000 scores. Each of these countries has experienced civil war and political instability in recent decades, and the improvements in part may reflect increased stability.
The countries with the highest 2016 GHI scores, and therefore the highest hunger levels, as well as relatively low percentage reductions in hunger, are the Central African Republic and Chad. The examples of these countries underscore that despite significant progress in reducing hunger globally, violent conflict, poor governance, and climate-related impacts on agriculture ensure that hunger continues to plague our planet and requires a transformative plan of action.
Examination of individual 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 of the GHI Severity Scale. For countries that have low hunger and undernutrition levels nationally, examination of data at the subnational level can help identify areas of the country that lag behind, such as in Mexico and Jordan where stunting rates are shown to vary substantially between states. On the other end of the GHI Severity Scale, subnational data for the alarming countries can reveal areas that are in crisis. For example, in Zambia and Sierra Leone, GHI indicators vary widely within each country.
In Cambodia, which has seen impressive reduction in its GHI score since 2000, improvements have been uneven between provinces.
Such examples of subnational disparities serve as a springboard for further research into the specific causes, circumstances, and challenges of hunger at the subnational level.
In this year’s essay, David Nabarro, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change, presents a new plan for transformative development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, through its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, addresses the interconnected root causes of the most persistent ills we face today and sets an ambitious target of ending hunger and malnutrition for all by 2030. It recognizes that a lasting end to hunger and undernutrition cannot be achieved in isolation, but that underlying structural causes as well as the impacts of climate change, particularly on the poorest, must too be addressed.
Delivering on the 2030 Agenda offers the best and surest way of getting to Zero Hunger faster. The 2016 Global Hunger Index report presents recommendations that emphasize the means to accelerate toward Zero Hunger within the context of the 2030 Agenda. These recommendations focus on four areas: whole-of-government commitment to Zero Hunger, transformation of food systems, inclusion and participation of all members of society, and rigorous monitoring to hold international organizations and national governments to account.
Reaching Zero Hunger is a tough challenge that requires an ambitious approach. Together—in will and in action—we can create the momentum to meet this challenge and see this vision transform into reality
- International Food Policy Research Institute
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