13.10.2023 |

GHI: Multiple crises are hampering fight against hunger

Current food systems are failing young people (Photo: CC0)

Global hunger remains too high, and progress in reducing hunger has largely stalled. The combined effects of several crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, economic stagnation, the impacts of climate change, and war and conflicts in many countries of the world, have led to a cost-of-living crisis and worsened the situation for many people. Around 735 million people are unable to exercise their right to adequate food. Young people are more likely to be affected by extreme poverty and food insecurity, with young women particularly affected. These are some of the main messages of the 2023 Global Hunger Index (GHI) published on October 12th by Concern Worldwide, Ireland's largest aid and humanitarian agency, and the German non-government organisation Welthungerhilfe. The multiple crises have aggravated inequalities between regions, countries, and groups, the report warns. While some countries have weathered them relatively well, others have experienced deepening hunger and nutrition problems. “The extent to which countries are able to recover from shocks depends largely on underlying factors, such as state fragility, inequality, poor governance, and chronic poverty,” the authors write in the report summary. “Given that the world is expected to be subject to increased shocks in future years, particularly as a result of climate change, the effectiveness of disaster preparedness and response is likely to become increasingly central to the outlook on food security.”

The report is published each year by the two organisations. For this year’s edition, data were assessed for 136 countries. The GHI scores are based on the values of four component indicators: the share of undernourished people in the population (insufficient caloric intake), the share of children under age five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition (stunting), the share of children under five who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition (wasting) and child mortality in this age group. Based on the values of the four indicators, a GHI score is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best and 100 being the worst score. The scale encompasses low, moderate, serious, alarming and extremely alarming hunger levels. There were sufficient data to calculate 2023 GHI scores for 125 countries. For 11 countries, individual scores could not be calculated and ranks could not be determined owing to lack of data. Where possible, these countries were provisionally designated by severity to the different categories.

The result of the assessment gives cause for concern: Hunger remains serious or alarming in 43 countries. Nine countries have alarming levels of hunger: Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan (provisional designation) as well as Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Niger, and Yemen. Central African Republic leads the ranking in this year’s report with a score of 42.3. The country’s 2020–2022 undernourishment rate of 48.7% means that almost half of the population is consistently unable to meet minimum dietary energy needs. One in 10 children dies before their 5th birthday and 40% of children are stunted. The country has suffered from conflict in recent years, which, along with population displacement, widespread poverty, and underemployment, is a major driver of hunger. In 37 countries, the index indicates moderate levels of hunger. The worrying fact is that in many places the situation has worsened in recent years. Since 2015, hunger has increased in 18 countries with moderate, serious, or alarming 2023 GHI scores. As the effects of crises multiply and intensify, more and more people are experiencing severe hunger and the situation is expected to worsen throughout the year according to the report.

Not all countries have seen worsening hunger levels but progress in most countries is too slow or has come to a halt. In 14 countries with moderate, serious, or alarming 2023 GHI scores, progress has largely stalled. These countries saw a decline of less than 5% in their hunger levels between their 2015 and 2023. The average score for the whole world is 18.3, considered moderate – this is less than one point below the world’s GHI score of 19.1 in 2015. Furthermore, since 2017 the prevalence of undernourishment, one of the indicators, has increased and the number of undernourished people has risen from 572 million to about 735 million. At the current pace, 58 countries will not achieve low hunger by 2030. „As the year 2030 looms and just seven years remain to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, nearly three-quarters of a billion people are unable to exercise their right to adequate food,” Mathias Mogge, Secretary General of the Welthungerhilfe, and David Regan, CEO of Concern Worldwide, write in the foreword to the report. “Hunger is not new, and neither are its drivers. What is new is that we now live in a time of what has been termed “polycrisis”: the compounding impacts of climate change, conflicts, economic shocks, the global pandemic, and the Russia-Ukraine war have exacerbated social and economic inequalities and slowed or reversed previous progress in reducing hunger in many countries,” they added. But there are also some good news. Seven countries whose 2000 GHI scores indicated extremely alarming hunger levels – Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Zambia – have all made progress since then. Also, seven countries have achieved reductions of five points or more between their 2015 and 2023 GHI scores: Bangladesh, Chad, Djibouti, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mozambique, Nepal, and Timor-Leste.

The 2023 report includes a special focus on the future food needs of the world’s current young population. In their essay, commissioned for the report, the two young academics Wendy Gexa and Mendy Ndlovu from the University of KswZulu-Natal, South Africa, warn that young people are inheriting food systems that are failing on multiple fronts and are highly vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation: “We, as young people in our 20s, are keenly aware that our generation not only suffers from the failures of current food systems but will inherit these troubled food systems and their looming challenges. Those challenges threaten the realization of our right to food as well as other human rights, such as health, education, decent work, and livelihoods.” Currently 42% of the world’s people are under 25 years of age, and the global population of adolescents and young adults, at 1.2 billion, is the largest in history. The majority of young people live in low- and middle-income countries in south Asia, east Asia and Africa.

Many young people have little interest in farming because of a lack of support, innovation, and education and a perception that agriculture does not offer opportunities for prosperity or self-realization. Those involved directly or indirectly in food systems livelihoods are mostly living in rural areas. According to Gexa and Ndlovu, “addressing youth participation in food systems requires a holistic approach broadly focused on improving rural economies, social well-being, and service delivery. Efforts must be made to create a supportive environment for youth to pursue careers and interests in food systems.” This view is supported by David Regan: “Governments need to break down the barriers to their full participation in food systems and invest in training and education,” he said. “Agriculture and food systems must be promoted as viable and attractive livelihoods. Meaningful engagement of young people can unlock their potential as innovative agents of change and harness their energy and dynamism to transform food systems.” A major problem is that youth participation in making decisions that will affect their futures is still limited. The share of youth in formal decision-making forums is negligible, and the increased focus on youth participation in some policy dialogues has not necessarily translated into meaningful impact. „As heirs to current food systems, we deserve a stronger voice in transforming those food systems to meet our current and future needs,” Gexa and Ndlovu conclude. (ab)

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