Global hunger rates down, but 850 million still suffer

Fewer people in the world suffer from hunger. That is the good news. The bad news is that some 850 million people wrangle with hunger and 2 billion suffer from what is considered hidden hunger.

Those are the top-line findings from the 2014 Global Hunger Index, an annual report by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide. Its message is that the world continues to make major strides against hunger, but more must be done to make hunger a story of the past.

Click image to see larger map.

Click image to see larger map.

Burundi is the worst performer, according to the index. A dubious honor the country holds for three years running. Hunger levels remain alarming in 14 countries; the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. Haiti, Laos, Timor-Leste, and Yemen are the four exceptions. As a region, sub-Saharan Africa is the worst by a slim margin ahead of south Asia. After witnessing hunger rates rapidly decline in the early 2000s, progress in the region was uneven over the last few years.

Most troubling, and challenging, is what is considered hidden hunger. More than 2 billion people suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. They may have enough to fill their stomachs each night, but do not get the vital nutrients that will help them thrive. The effects of hidden hunger are far-reaching and significant. That is why the report draws the greatest attention to the issue.

“Particularly in countries facing a high burden of malnutrition, hidden hunger goes hand in hand with other forms of malnutrition and cannot be addressed in isolation,” said Welthungerhilfe President Bärbel Dieckmann. “In the long term, people cannot break out of the vicious cycle of poverty and malnutrition without being granted the basic right to nutritious food.”

The report is careful to link poverty and nutrition. Poverty is to blame, in non-emergency situations, for the lack of access to adequate nutrition.  Not getting enough nutrients is particularly damaging to women when they are pregnant or nursing, and children. Undernutrition leaves people more vulnerable to disease or infections.

It is particularly worrisome in children. The first 1,000 days of life are crucial to lifelong development. A lack of nutrition is to blame for problems from stunted physical growth to slowed brain development. Many effects are not only irreversible, they have a devastating effect on a person’s entire life. That does not have to be the story for the coming years.

“The great news is that we have clear evidence proving that investing in nutrition is one of the smartest development investments we can make,” said Dominic MacSorley, CEO of Concern Worldwide. “What is needed now is more practical action on the ground and more political action at the international level to end all forms of malnutrition.”

Close to 18 million babies are born with brain-damage each year; the result of iron deficiency. That is in addition to the between 1 million and 3 million children who die due to undernutrition. It is possible to  reduce many of these deaths.

Known high-impact interventions include the disbursement of Vitamin A and zinc supplements. The simple act of spending $1 on salt iodization generates up to $81 in benefits, says research from IFPRI.

The report is yet another foray into the Post-2015 goals race. Campaigners hope, and make the connection in the report itself, that issues pertaining to hunger are a part of the goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals at the end of 2015.

The global community must ensure that the post-2015 framework includes a universal goal to end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms and clear mechanisms to ensure accountability,” according to the report’s press release.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.