Global, Regional, and National Trends
30th Aug, 2019
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.