Symbolic image of hunger © Panitanphoto (shutterstock)
Every year on 16. October World Food Day commemorates the situation of hungry people. They live mainly in South Asia and Africa. The day before, the World Hunger Index turns the spotlight on forgotten crises and regions.
Since 2006, the statistics have been published by Welthungerhilfe as well as the Irish organization Concern Worldwide. The ranking, based on data from the United Nations, is intended to provide information on the proportion of malnourished, emaciated and growth retarded children under the age of five, as well as their mortality rate.
Central African Republic in last place
The Central African Republic, which has been shaken by unrest for years, comes in last place – once again. The authors of the study classify the situation in the state as "grave" with an index value of 53.6. By way of comparison, the average for the 117 countries surveyed this time is 20.0. For the inhabitants of Central Africa, this means that almost half of all children have stunted growth, and 60 percent of the population is undernourished.
Alongside sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia is a hotspot for hunger crises. The small island nation of East Timor, for example, is ranked 110th on the list. Here, social inequality and inadequate health care are among the drivers of malnutrition.
Similarly, Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere – and one of two sample countries in the latest World Hunger Index. In 2017, gross domestic product per capita was $766, less than a tenth of the average in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In addition, natural disasters and political crises have left an estimated 2.6 million of Haiti’s 11 million people in need of humanitarian aid this year. About half of the population is unable to meet its minimum calorie requirements on a regular basis; the malnutrition rate between 2016 and 2018 was 49.3 percent, almost as high as between 2009 and 2011. Nevertheless, the 2019 index value is 34.7 – a record compared to previous years.
Alongside concern, also cause for optimism
The experts therefore see cause for optimism alongside all the concern. Global progress in reducing hunger and malnutrition generated optimism "that the world can and will achieve more," they note in the World Hunger Index.
It is fitting that FIAN already pointed out last week, citing the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that harvests of the world’s most important staples – wheat, maize and rice – increased by 27 percent over the past decade – while the world’s population grew by "only" 11 percent over the same period. The world’s grain reserves are also much better than they were in the same period, with 852 million tons compared with 520 million tons.
Number of undernourished people increased
Admittedly, this contrasts with the fact that the number of undernourished people has risen: from 785 million in 2015 to 822 million in 2018. Climate change is a major unknown in the fight against hunger. Since the early 1990s, the number of extreme weather-related disasters has doubled, the World Hunger Index says. In dealing with the resulting consequences, there is still no global, success-guaranteeing experience "to guide us".
Another problem is food waste. Currently, about 14 percent of it is lost before it reaches consumers, the FAO announced at the beginning of the week. Against this backdrop, the UN’s goal of ending world hunger by 2030 seems quite ambitious. As for access to food, a look at a Unicef statistic also unveiled Tuesday illustrates the world’s uneven distribution of wealth: while 50 million young children are too thin, especially in developing and emerging countries, 40 million children under the age of five live with overweight or obesity, mostly in wealthier nations.