Hunger is decreasing globally, but the largest number of people going hungry is in South Asia, with the situation in India ‘alarming’ despite it having made some progress.

Overall, the hunger situation in 19 out 120 countries is alarming or seriously alarming, says a report released on Monday by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide.

The 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI) has fallen by 34 per cent from the 1990 score, but South Asia has the highest regional score of 20.7, followed by Africa (south of the Sahara) while Burundi, Eritrea and Comoros have the highest levels of hunger, says the report.

The report, which calls for building coping mechanisms to boost food and nutrition security, terms the situation in India as alarming, even as its hunger score improved from 32.6 in 1990 to 24 in 2005 and 21.3 in 2013. Pakistan has a score of 19.3, Bangladesh 19.4 and China 5.5.

It says South Asia’s record of reducing hunger has been uneven, as the region reduced its score markedly between 1990 and 1995, but the decrease slowed down, despite strong economic growth.

India, which recently passed a food security law, and Timor-Leste have the highest prevalence of underweight in children under five — more than 40 per cent in both countries. The report cites social inequality and low nutritional, educational, and social status of women as the major causes of child under-nutrition in South Asia.

“2.6 billion people have to live on less than two dollars a day. For them a sick family member, a single drought or the job loss of someone working abroad is a major crisis…. These people have simply no coping mechanisms left to react to a crisis,” said Welthungerhilfe’s Chairlady Bärbel Dieckmann.

Pointing out that the developing world is more vulnerable to shocks and stress from extreme weather events, macroeconomic crises, poor governance and conflicts, among others, the report calls for policy focus on building people’s resilience.

It suggests silos between the relief and development communities to be broken down and developing high-frequency surveillance systems for the most vulnerable regions, focusing on community as well as individual and household resilience, i.e. their capacity to absorb shocks.

Among the countries that achieved noteworthy progress in improving their GHI scores are Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, with decreases in their scores ranging between 15 and 23 points.

The index identified hunger levels and hot spots across 120 developing countries and countries in transition, and ranked countries on three equally weighted indicators - the proportion of undernourished people, the proportion of underweight children under five, and the mortality rate of children under five.

aditi.n@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 14, 2013)
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