Thursday, October 13, 2011

State of Hunger in South Asia, 2004-2009 (Global Hunger Index 2011)

IFPRI has just published 2011 Global Hunger Index report titled The Challenge of Hunger: Taming Price Spikes and Excessive Food Price Volatility. It calls for action to curtail high and volatile food prices and to protect the poor from rising food prices. Conforming the outcome of other reports by the FAO and other organizations, the new report argues that  the main causes of high and volatile food prices are growing demand for biofuels, extreme weather and climate change, and increased financial activity through commodity futures markets. Worse, these challenges are exacerbated by historically low levels of grain reserves, export markets for staple commodities that are highly concentrated in a few countries, and lack of timely, accurate information on food production, stock levels, and price forecasting, which can lead to overreaction by policymakers and soaring prices.

In order to identify hunger levels and hot spots, the Global Hunger Index scores countries based on three equally weighted indicators: the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and the child mortality rate. According to the 2011 Index, 26 countries have levels of hunger that are alarming or extremely alarming, and all those with extremely alarming levels—Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Eritrea—are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

To tame food price volatility and protect the poor against future shocks, the report recommends addressing the drivers of food price volatility; tackling global market characteristics affecting volatility, including building up stocks by coordinating international food reserves and sharing information on food markets; and building resilience for the future. Specifically, it recommends to

  • curtail biofuels subsidies and mandates
  • discourage the use of food crops in biofuels production
  • regulate financial activity in food markets
  • reduce the incentives for potential excessive speculation in food commodities
  • invest in climate change adaptation and mitigation
  • safeguard smallholder farmers against extreme weather-related shocks
  • strengthen social protection systems
  • improve emergency preparedness
  • invest in sustainable small-scale agriculture

The 2011GHI reflects data from 2004 to 2009 – the most recent available country-level data on the three GHI components. It is thus a snapshot not of the present, but of the recent past. An increase in a country’s GHI score indicates that the hunger situation is worsening, while a decrease in the score indicates an improvement in the country’s hunger situation.

  • The 2011 world GHI fell by 26 percent from the 1990 world GHI, from a score of 19.7 to 14.6.
  • From the 1990 GHI to the 2011 GHI, 15 countries reduced their scores by 50 percent or more.
  • Between the 1990 GHI and the 2011 GHI, 19 countries moved out of the bottom two categories— “extremely alarming” and alarming.”
  • In terms of absolute progress, Angola, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, and Vietnam saw the greatest improvements in their scores from the 1990 to 2011 GHI.
  • In terms of percentage decrease in GHI scores from the 1990 GHI to the 2011 GHI, the following countries saw the greatest improvements, beginning with the most improved: Kuwait, Turkey, Malaysia, Mexico, Islamic Republic of Iran, Albania, Peru, Nicaragua, Ghana, and Fiji.

State of hunger in South Asia:

  • South Asia has the highest regional 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) score—22.6 (worst than in Sub-Saharan Africa regional score).

  • The 2011 GHI score fell by 25 percent in South Asia compared with its 1990 score, and the 2011 GHI score in Southeast Asia decreased by 44 percent.

  • The South Asia region reduced its GHI score by more than 6 points between 1990 and 1996—mainly due to a large decline in underweight in children under five, but the fast progress was not maintained. South Asia has lowered its GHI score by only one point since 2001 despite strong economic growth. Social inequality and the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women, which is a major cause of child undernutrition in the region, have impeded improvements in the GHI score.

  • In Bangladesh—a country where 25 percent of the population is ultra-poor (living on less than USD $0.50 a day)—only about 7 percent of the population has access to social protection or safety net programs.

  • Bangladesh saw large gains in improving their GHI score between the 1990 GHI and the 2011 GHI, reducing its score by 36 percent.

  • Bangladesh and India have the highest prevalence—more than 40 percent—of underweight in children under five in South Asia.

Hunger in South Asia (Increase in GHI score means hunger situation is worsening)
Country 1990               (with data from 1988-92) 1996               (with data from 1994-98) 2001               (with data from 1999-2003) 2011               (with data from 2004-2009) Rank 2011
Bangladesh 38.1 36.3 27.6 24.5 70
India 30.4 22.9 24.1 23.7 67
Nepal 27.1 24.6 23 19.9 54
Pakistan 25.7 22 21.9 20.7 59
Sri Lanka 20.2 17.8 14.9 14 36

Out of 122 developing countries and countries in transition, Sri Lanka has the best ranking in South Asia (lower ranking is better). Compared to 1990, the state of hunger in 2011 has improved in all South Asian countries for which data is available. However, there has not been much improvement since 2001, i.e. though the score has changed, the state of hunger is pretty much unchanged. Nepal’s and Pakistan’s state of hunger has remained unchanged (“alarming”) since 1990.

Hunger in South Asia
Country 1990 1996 2001 2011
Bangladesh Extremely alarming Extremely alarming Alarming Alarming
India Extremely alarming Alarming Alarming Alarming
Nepal Alarming Alarming Alarming Serious
Pakistan Alarming Alarming Alarming Alarming
Sri Lanka Alarming Serious Serious Serious

Here is a related post on high food prices in South Asia.

UPDATE (2011-11-16): Nepal’s state of hunger in 2011 is updated as serious from alarming. I misread the scale. [<= 4.9 is low; 5-9.9 is moderate; 10-19.9 is serious; 20-29.9 is alarming; and >= 30 is extremely alarming]