Heartening Report on Global Hunger

The world has made significant progress in combating global hunger, according to the 2014 Global Hunger Index published this week by the International Food Policy Research Institute. The state of hunger in developing countries as a group has improved since 1990, falling by a heartening 39 percent, according to the 2014 index.

“Undernourishment fell most rapidly between 1990 and 1995, underweight after 2005, and progress in reducing child mortality has gained momentum since 2000,” the report notes. “Even with these improvements, the 2014 aggregate index remains ‘serious’ and warrants continued concern.”

Despite the progress, the report says, the level of hunger in the world is still serious, with more than 800 million people continuing to go to bed hungry, according to estimates quoted by IFPRI from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Other sources published recently say Indonesia, despite rapidly improving economic conditions, continues to suffer badly from childhood stunting from malnutrition. According to a 2013 report by UNICEF, in some provinces including Nusa Tenggara Barat, stunting is actually increasing as mothers forgo breastfeeding. According to the UNICEF report, stunting, which can affect mental acuity as well as physical prowess, has increased from 43 percent in 2003 to 48 percent in 2010. Stunting actually affects 17 percent of all children across Indonesia, according to Women Empowerment and Child Protection Minister Linda Amalia Sari Gumelar, up from 15 percent across the country, primarily because of parental unawareness of children’s growth needs.

Progress in addressing child underweight was the main factor behind the improved score for the region since 1990, with 26 countries reducing their scores by 50 percent or more. In terms of absolute progress, comparing 1990 GHI with 2014, Angola, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chad, Ghana, Malawi, Niger, Rwanda, Thailand, and Vietnam saw the biggest improvements in scores.

In India, the percentage of underweight in children fell by almost 13 percentage points between 2005–2006 and 2013–2014 as a range of programs and initiatives launched by India’s central and state governments in the past decade seems to finally have made a difference for child nutrition, according to the document.

IFPRI found that both Thailand and Vietnam have achieved impressive progress in reducing hunger since 1990. In the past two decades, Thailand, IFPRI says, has experienced robust economic growth and reduced poverty despite brief setbacks related to the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998. Vietnam has also cut back its 1990 GHI score by more than three-quarters, reducing the proportion of undernourished from 48 percent to only 8 percent, lowered underweight in children from 41 percent to 12 percent between 1990 and 2011, and more than halved the under-five mortality rate. While every second pregnant woman in Vietnam was anemic in 1995, only one in three pregnant women still suffered from anemia six years later.

GDP per capita has more than tripled in Vietnam since 1990, and strong, broad-based economic growth translated into a decline in the proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 per day, from 64 percent to 17 percent between 1993 and 2008, according to the World Bank 2014. The country put nutrition high on its agenda, effectively developed and carried out a plan to prevent protein-energy malnutrition among children, achieved high coverage of immunization and other primary healthcare services, granted targeted health subsidies to the poor, and ran successful social security programs.

The report by the Washington, DC-based NGO concentrates on one form of hunger that it says is often ignored or overshadowed by hunger related to energy deficits. It is hidden hunger—also called micronutrient deficiency—which affects some 2 billion people around the world, the report notes, meaning a shortage in essential vitamins and minerals can that have long-term, irreversible health effects as well as socioeconomic consequences that can erode well-being and development and take a toll on economies.

Hidden hunger can coexist with adequate or even excessive consumption of dietary energy from macronutrients, such as fats and carbohydrates, and therefore also with overweight /obesity in one person or community.

“Poor diet, disease, impaired absorption, and increased micronutrient needs during certain life stages, such as pregnancy, lactation, and infancy, are among the causes of hidden hunger, which may ‘“invisibly’ affect the health and development of a population.”

To eliminate hidden hunger, IFPRI says, governments must make fighting it a priority, investing in and developing human and financial resources, increase coordination, and ensure transparent monitoring and evaluation to build capacity on nutrition. Governments must also create regulatory environments that value good nutrition. This could involve creating incentives for private sector companies to develop more nutritious seeds or foods.

“Transparent accountability systems are needed in order to ensure that investments contribute to public health, while standardized data collection on micronutrient deficiencies can build the evidence base on the efficacy and cost effectiveness of food-based solutions.’