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Gist of Global Hunger Index, 2018

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  • Published
    4th Sep, 2019


  1. Introduction
  2. The Concept of the Global Hunger Index
  3. Global, Regional, and National Trends
  4. Forced Migration and Hunger
  5. Policy Recommendations
  • This year’s Global Hunger Index reveals a distressing gap between the current rate of progress in the fight against hunger and undernutrition and the rate of progress needed to eliminate hunger and alleviate human suffering. The 2018 Global Hunger Index tracks the state of hunger worldwide and spotlights those places where action to address hunger is most urgently needed. The results show that in many countries, and in terms of the global average, hunger and undernutrition have declined since 2000, indicating real improvements in the lives of millions of men, women, and children. At the same time, while progress has been robust in some parts of the world, in other parts hunger and undernutrition persist or have even worsened. In too many areas, growing numbers of people still suffer the indignity of hunger and the insecurity of forced displacement.
  • The statistics are both staggering and sobering. Approximately 124 million people suffer acute hunger, a striking increase from 80 million two years ago, while the reality of hunger and undernutrition continues to have a massive impact on the next generation. About 151 million children are stunted and 51 million children are wasted across the globe. Hard-won gains are being further threatened by conflict, climate change, poor governance, and a host of other challenges. Despite evidence showing that real progress is possible, the root causes and complex realities of hunger are not being adequately tackled. In 2015 the world’s countries committed to achieving zero hunger by 2030. We are not on track to meet that goal.
  • The 2018 edition also has a special focus on the theme of forced migration and hunger. Hunger can be both a cause and a consequence of the vast movement of displaced populations, but the links are often poorly understood. Hunger and displacement are both political problems, and short-term emergency actions are insufficient to address displacements that often last years or even decades.
  • Hunger and forced migration are painful realities for millions, but this state of affairs has yet to spur the kind of political leadership and action by national governments that is so urgently needed. More worryingly, we are seeing the issue of migration has become a lightning rod for new political discourse that is increasingly more hard-line than humanitarian.
  • This year’s GHI is not just a renewed call to action on hunger and forced migration but an urgent call for a resurgence of humanity in how we address the shocking truth that—in a world of plenty—millions of people’s human rights continue to be violated and these people still go to bed hungry each night.


The problem of hunger is complex, and different terms are used to describe its various forms:

Hunger: Hunger is usually understood to refer to the distress associated with a lack of sufficient calories. The Food and Agriculture Organization defines food deprivation, or undernourishment, as the consumption of too few calories to provide the minimum amount of dietary energy that each individual requires to live a healthy and productive life, given that person’s sex, age, stature, and physical activity level.

Undernutrition: Undernutrition goes beyond calories and signifies deficiencies in any or all of the following: energy, protein, and/ or essential vitamins and minerals. Undernutrition is the result of inadequate intake of food in terms of either quantity or quality, poor utilization of nutrients due to infections or other illnesses, or a combination of these factors. These, in turn, are caused by a range of factors, including household food insecurity; inadequate maternal health or childcare practices; or inadequate access to health services, safe water, and sanitation.

Malnutrition: Malnutrition refers more broadly to both undernutrition (problems caused by deficiencies) and overnutrition (problems caused by unbalanced diets, such as consuming too many calories in relation to requirements with or without low intake of micronutrient-rich foods).

How are the GHI scores calculated?

GHI scores are calculated using a three-step process that draws on available data from various sources to capture the multidimensional nature of hunger.

First, for each country, values are determined for four indicators:

  1. UNDERNOURISHMENT: the share of the population that is undernourished (that is, whose caloric intake is insufficient);
  2. CHILD WASTING: the share of children under the age of five who are wasted (that is, who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition);
  3. CHILD STUNTING: the share of children under the age of five who are stunted (that is, who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition); and
  4. CHILD MORTALITY: the mortality rate of children under the age of five (in part, a reflection of the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments).

Second, each of the four component indicators is given a standardized score on a 100-point scale based on the highest observed level for the indicator on a global scale in recent decades.

Third, standardized scores are aggregated to calculate the GHI score for each country, with each of the three dimensions (inadequate food supply; child mortality; and child undernutrition, which is composed equally of child stunting and child wasting) given equal weight. This three-step process results in GHI scores on a 100-point GHI Severity Scale, where 0 is the best score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst.

 The World

  • The 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI) indicates that the level of hunger and undernutrition worldwide falls into the serious category, at a value of 20.9, down from 29.2 in 2000.
  • Underlying this improvement are reductions since 2000 in each of the four GHI indicators—the prevalence of undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality.
  • In the countries included in the GHI, the share of the population that is undernourished stands at 12.3 percent as of 2015–2017, down from 17.6 percent in 1999–2001.
  • Of children under five, 27.9 percent are stunted based on data from 2013–2017, down from 37.1 percent in 1998–2002, and 9.3 percent are wasted, down slightly from 9.7 percent in 1998–2002. Finally, the under-five mortality rate was 4.2 percent as of 2016, down from 8.1 percent in 2000.
  • Despite these improvements, the question remains whether the world will achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, which aims to end hunger, ensure food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture, by 2030. The goal of achieving zero hunger will not be reached without increased efforts and new approaches to that end.
  • GHI projections show that at the pace of hunger reduction observed since 2000, approximately 50 countries will fail to reach low hunger levels as defined by the GHI Severity Scale by 2030; at present, 79 countries have failed to reach that designation according to the 2018 GHI.

The Regions

  • At the regional level, the 2018 GHI scores for South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara, at 30.5 and 29.4, respectively, are dramatically higher than those of other regions of the world. These scores, indicating serious levels of hunger, stand in stark contrast to those of East and Southeast Asia, the Near East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, which range from 7.3 to 13.2 and indicate low or moderate hunger levels.
  • The GHI scores for South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara merit special consideration. In both of these regions, the rates of undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality are unacceptably high. In particular, South Asia has the highest child stunting and child wasting rates of any region, followed by Africa south of the Sahara. In terms of undernourishment and child mortality, Africa south of the Sahara has the highest rates, followed by South Asia.
  • South Asia’s child wasting rate constitutes a critical public health emergency. This is made all the more concerning because it has not decreased but rather has slightly increased since 2000. The child wasting rate for the region is amplified in part by that of India, which has the region’s largest population and highest level of child wasting, at 21 percent according to the latest data. Yet even without India, South Asia’s child wasting rate would top the rates of the other regions of the world.
  • Several factors characterize child wasting throughout South Asia. Wasting rates are highest for infants aged 0 to 5 months, indicating that the youngest children are most vulnerable to wasting and suggesting that attention to birth outcomes and breastfeeding is important. Furthermore, a low maternal body mass index (BMI) is associated with child wasting throughout the region, suggesting that the nutritional status of the mother during pregnancy influences the nutritional status of the child at birth and beyond.
  • Child stunting in South Asia is also very high. Since 2000, the rate of stunting in the region has fallen from approximately half of all children to over a third, but this still constitutes the highest regional child stunting rate worldwide. Factors that could reduce child stunting in South Asia include increased consumption of non-staple foods, access to sanitation, women’s education, access to safe water, gender equality, and national food availability. These factors must be addressed.
  • In Africa south of the Sahara, the 2015–2017 undernourishment rate, at 22 percent, has increased marginally since 2009–2011 and is the highest regional rate of all regions in the report. Conflict plays a devastating role in this region: countries engaged in protracted crises have undernourishment rates that are approximately twice as high as those of countries not affected by conflict. Other factors driving undernourishment are poor climatic conditions, exacerbated in 2015 and 2016 by the El Niño phenomenon, which led to prolonged droughts, reduced harvests, and loss of livestock in many parts of Africa. In some cases, the effects of climate change and conflict combine to further increase undernourishment rates.

The Countries

  • According to the 2018 GHI, six countries suffer from levels of hunger that are alarming, while one country, the Central African Republic (CAR), suffers from a level that is extremely alarming. The six countries with alarming levels of hunger are Chad, Haiti, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Yemen, and Zambia. Forty-five countries out of 119 countries that were ranked have serious levels of hunger.
  • Haiti, Zimbabwe, and CAR have the highest rates of undernourishment, ranging between 45.8 and 61.8 percent.
  • Stunting rates are highest in Timor-Leste, Eritrea, and Burundi, with at least half of the children suffering from stunting in each country.
  • Wasting is most prevalent in Djibouti, India, and South Sudan, but even among these three countries the rates and estimates vary widely, at 16.7 percent, 21.0 percent, and 28.6 percent, respectively.
  • Finally, the highest under-five mortality rates are in Somalia (13.3 percent), Chad (12.7 percent), and CAR (12.4 percent).


Countries facing conflict fare particularly poorly owing to disruptions to food and clean water supplies, livelihoods, and health care services, which combine to jeopardize food and nutrition security. In many cases, the conditions precipitate crises of forced migration, and those who are displaced both within and beyond their home countries struggle to properly feed themselves and their families. This is the case in many of the countries that rank the worst according to the GHI, as well as the countries for which there are inadequate data to calculate scores. Yet there is still hope. Countries that experienced brutal civil wars and extremely alarming hunger levels in the past have seen remarkable reductions in hunger once their situation stabilized. Although there are exceptions, the overall trends in hunger and undernutrition are promising and show improvements over time.

  • Across the globe, people are being forcibly displaced from their homes on a massive scale. There are an estimated 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, including 40 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 25.4 million refugees, and 3.1 million asylum seekers. These groups are compelled to flee conflict, violence, and natural or human-made disasters in order to reach safe places where they can support themselves and their families.
  • Most people are displaced not as the result of just one factor, but because of a combination of factors, with hunger often figuring prominently in their experience. Hunger is a persistent danger that threatens the lives of large numbers of forcibly displaced people and influences their decisions about when and where to move.
  • During periods of conflict, hunger may be both a cause and a consequence of forced migration. People affected by conflict experience it not only as a threat to their lives but as an assault on their livelihoods that can undermine their ability to provide for their most basic needs, including food.
  • Conflict can restrict people’s movement and their access to markets, farmland, and jobs. If they cannot produce the food they need to survive or earn an income to purchase that food, their nutritional well-being is compromised. Some people do indeed manage to flee to safety with the bulk of their savings or assets intact and so do not face the immediate threat of hunger before they are displaced. Others are not as fortunate: by the time they move, they have lost everything. Still others are displaced multiple times, with each move further eroding their resilience, livelihood, and food security.
  • Predicting when people are likely to be displaced is an inexact science; some clues may be found by analyzing past displacements within the same population. However, levels of risk and violence and perceptions of the opportunities or resources that may be available at the intended destinations may lead to very different decision-making pathways among individuals and households, even within the same population.


  1. HUNGER AND DISPLACEMENT should be recognized and dealt with as political problems. Support is needed for policies designed to prevent conflict and build peace at all levels, as well as for policies that reinforce government accountability and transparency, which make it more difficult for governments to shirk their duty to meet citizens’ basic needs for safety and food security.
  2. HUMANITARIAN ACTION ALONE is an insufficient response to forced migration, and more holistic approaches involving development support are needed. A more holistic approach would also offer benefits to the communities that host displaced people. Displacement can bring food insecurity to host populations, who share what they have with their displaced relatives and neighbors. In some cases, the hosts themselves are former displaced persons who may become unable to continue hosting or may even themselves be displaced again when they run out of resources to share, leading to “overlapping displacements”. Solving such issues needs holistic approach.
  3. FOOD-INSECURE displaced people should be supported in their regions of origin. People affected by food insecurity typically move to the nearest city or across an international border to the closest refugee camp or market center, because they often cannot afford to go any further.
  4. THE PROVISION OF SUPPORT should be based on the resilience of the displaced people themselves, which is never entirely absent. Policies designed to assist refugees and IDPs should build on their resilience, but in fact such policies often work to undermine the resilience of displaced people. They may be legally prohibited from moving through the country, owning property, or working legally. In Kenya, for instance, Somali refugees are subject to all of these restrictions. This limits the ability of displaced people to gain access to food that is adequate in quantity and quality.

 The number of forcibly displaced people is on the rise, and hunger is often both a cause and a consequence of displacement. Actions are needed from many actors, including the international community, national governments, and civil society:

Leave No One Behind

  1. Focus resources and attention on the regions of the world where the majority of displaced people are located: low- and middle-income countries and the least-developed countries. Displaced people and host communities in these countries should receive strong, sustained support from governments and international organizations.
  2. Provide stronger political and humanitarian support to internally displaced people (IDPs) and advocate for their legal protection. Governments must accelerate progress under the UN Plan of Action for Advancing Prevention, Protection, and Solutions for Internally Displaced People 2018–2020.
  3. Follow up on UN Resolution 2417 (2018), which focuses on the links between armed conflict, conflict-induced food insecurity, and the threat of famine. Introduce a robust monitoring, reporting, and accountability mechanism for addressing violations.
  4. Prioritize actions to address the special vulnerabilities and challenges of women and girls. Ensure that displaced women and girls have equal access to assets, services, productive and financial resources, and income-generating opportunities. Work with men, women, boys, and girls to end gender-based violence and exploitation.
  5. Scale up investment and improve governance to accelerate development in rural areas, where large numbers of displaced people originate and where hunger is often greatest. Support people’s efforts to diversify their livelihoods and secure access to land, markets, and services. Promote sustainable agricultural practices that increase households’ resilience and enhance domestic food supplies.

Implement Long-Term Solutions

  1. Strengthen the resilience of displaced populations by providing access to education and training, employment, health care, agricultural land, and markets so they can build their self-reliance and ensure their long-term food and nutrition security, as outlined in the core commitments on forced migration from the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.
  2. Implement durable solutions, such as local integration or return to regions of origin on a voluntary basis. Expand safe, legal pathways for refugees through resettlement programs, such as humanitarian admission programs. Create mechanisms to accelerate status determination so that people do not have to live with uncertainty for long periods. Equally, pursue long-term solutions for displaced people living outside of camps, who often receive little or no official support.
  3. Design policies and programs that recognize the complex interplay between hunger and forced migration as well as the dynamics of displacement. For example, support flexible approaches that allow people to maintain businesses, livelihoods, and social ties in multiple locations.

Show Solidarity, Share Responsibility

  1. Adopt and implement the UN Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), and integrate their commitments into national policy plans. Monitor and report regularly on progress.
  2. Deliver on and scale up government commitments to international humanitarian organizations that support refugees and IDPs and close the funding gaps that already exist.
  3. Uphold humanitarian principles and human rights when assisting and hosting refugees, IDPs, and their host communities. Do not use official development assistance as a bargaining chip in negotiations over migration policies.
  4. Address the root causes of forced displacement, especially in the areas of poverty and hunger reduction; climate action; responsible consumption and production; and promotion of peace, justice, and strong institutions.
  5. Foster a fact-based discussion around migration, displacement, and refugees. Governments, politicians, international organizations, civil society, and the media should work to proactively counter misconceptions and promote a more informed debate on these issues.

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