Despite these improvements, a number of factors, including deep and persistent inequalities, undermine efforts to end hunger and undernutrition worldwide. As a result, even as the average global hunger level has declined, certain regions of the world still struggle with hunger more than others, disadvantaged populations experience hunger more acutely than their better-off neighbors, and isolated and war-torn areas are ravaged by famine.
In early 2017, the United Nations declared that more than 20 million people were at risk of famine in four countries: Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. These crises are largely “man-made,” the result of violent conflict and internal strife that are preventing people from accessing food and clean water and keeping aid organizations from reaching people in need.
It is against this backdrop that we explore the state of hunger in the world. The following sections report on hunger and undernutrition at the regional, national, and subnational levels, and provide insight into how and why these have changed over time.
. A 1992 regional score for Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States was not calculated because many countries in this region did not exist in their present borders.
At the regional level, South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara have the highest 2017 GHI scores – 30.9 and 29.4, respectively, indicating serious levels of hunger (Figure 2.1). The GHI scores, and therefore the hunger levels, for East and Southeast Asia, the Near East and North Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States are considered low or moderate, ranging from 7.8 to 12.8 points.
Within each region in the low range, however, are also countries with serious or alarming GHI scores, including Tajikistan in Central Asia, which is part of the Commonwealth of Independent States; Guatemala and Haiti in Latin America and the Caribbean; and Iraq and Yemen in the Near East and North Africa region. Seven of 14 countries in East and Southeast Asia have serious scores, though the low score of highly populous China improves the regional average.
In the regions with the most hunger, South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara, different indicators drive the high GHI scores. In South Asia, child undernutrition, as measured by child stunting and child wasting, is higher than in Africa south of the Sahara. Meanwhile, Africa south of the Sahara has a higher child mortality rate and struggles more with undernourishment, reflecting overall calorie deficiency for the population.
Given that three-quarters of South Asia’s population resides in India, the situation in that country 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. Only three other countries in this year’s GHI – Djibouti, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan – have data or estimates showing child wasting above 20 percent in the latest period (2012–2016). Further, India’s child wasting rate has not substantially improved over the past 25 years (see Appendix C
But the country has made progress in other areas: Its child stunting rate, while still relatively high at 38.4 percent, has decreased in each of the reference periods in this report, down from 61.9 percent in 1992. According to Menon et al. (2017), India has implemented a “massive scale-up” of two national programs that address nutrition – the Integrated Child Development Services and the National Health Mission – but these have yet to achieve adequate coverage.
Areas of concern include (1) the timely introduction of complementary foods for young children (that is, the transition away from exclusive breastfeeding), which declined from 52.7 percent to 42.7 percent between 2006 and 2016; (2) the share of children between 6 and 23 months old who receive an adequate diet—a mere 9.6 percent for the country; and (3) household access to improved sanitation facilities—a likely factor in child health and nutrition—which stood at 48.4 percent as of 2016 (Menon et al. 2017).
In Africa south of the Sahara, meanwhile, undernourishment remains stubbornly high, staying virtually the same in 2014–2016 (at 21.6 percent) as in 2007–2009 (at 22.0 percent), and currently constituting the highest regional undernourishment rate in the world. Rising food prices, droughts, and political instability contributed to this stagnation (FAO/IFAD/WFP 2015). Economic growth (particularly in certain sectors of the economy such as agriculture) and investment (especially in public services such as health and education) have helped some countries in the region to reduce their undernourishment levels (Soriano and Garrido 2016).
Countries such as Angola, Gabon, and Mali have experienced substantial reductions in undernourishment rates in recent years, achieving rates under 15 percent as of 2014–2016 (FAO 2017b). A common feature among these and other countries in the region that have lowered their undernourishment rates is relatively rapid improvement in agricultural productivity (FAO/IFAD/WFP 2015).
Although progress on certain indicators has stalled in some places, there has been a steady decline in hunger levels for each region covered in this report (Figure 2.1 above). Between the 2000 and 2017 scores, Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States saw the greatest improvement when measured by the percentage change, though not in absolute terms.
During the same period, Africa south of the Sahara, which had the highest regional score in 2000, experienced the greatest decline in absolute GHI values—a 14-point drop. Looking all the way back to 1992, however, Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia have made comparable progress; according to their GHI scores, hunger levels for these regions were remarkably close in 1992 and again in the most recent reference period.