Source: Pilar/Welthungerhilfe
South Sudan. Children fetch water at a water pump with Welthungerhilfe canisters in a settlement in Nyamlel

2012 Global Hunger Index

High levels of hunger are generally found in those countries and regions where access and property rights to land, water, and energy are limited or contested.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger globally and by region and country.1 Calculated each year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the GHI highlights successes and failures in hunger reduction and provides insights into the drivers of hunger. By raising awareness and understanding of regional and country differences in hunger, the GHI will, it is hoped, trigger actions to reduce hunger.

A number of different indicators can be used to measure hunger (see “Concepts of Hunger”). To reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger, the GHI combines three equally weighted indicators in one index:

  1. Undernourishment: the proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of the population (reflecting the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake)
  2. Child underweight: the proportion of children younger than age five who are underweight (that is, have low weight for their age, reflecting wasting, stunted growth, or both), which is one indicator of child undernutrition
  3. Child mortality: the mortality rate of children younger than age five (partially reflecting the fatal synergy of inadequate caloric intake and unhealthy environments)

This multidimensional approach offers several advantages. It reflects the nutrition situation not only of the population as a whole, but also of a physiologically vulnerable group—children—for whom a lack of nutrients leads to a high risk of illness, poor physical and cognitive development, and death. In addition, by combining independently measured indicators, it reduces the effects of random measurement errors.2

The GHI ranks countries on a 100-point scale in which zero is the best score (no hunger) and 100 the worst, although neither of these extremes is reached in practice. The scale in Box 1.1 below shows the severity of hunger—from “low” to “extremely alarming”—associated with the range of possible GHI scores. The 2012 GHI is calculated for 120 countries for which data on the three components are available and for which measuring hunger is considered most relevant. (The GHI calculation excludes some higher-income countries because the prevalence of hunger there is very low.)

The GHI is only as current as the data for its three component indicators. This year’s GHI reflects data from 2005 to 2010—the most recent available country-level data on the three GHI components. It is thus a snapshot not of the present, but of the recent past. For some countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Papua New Guinea, and Somalia, and now also for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar, lack of data on undernourishment prevents the calculation of GHI scores. 3 Despite the existence of abundant technological tools to collect and assess data almost instantaneously, enormous time lags persist in reporting vital statistics on hunger. More up-to-date and extensive country data on hunger are urgently needed. Some efforts are underway to improve data on undernourishment and the distribution of food consumption. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is currently revising its methodology for estimating undernourishment in order to provide more timely data that integrates all relevant information, including findings of the large number of household surveys that have become available in recent years (FAO 2011b). Improvements in collecting high-quality data on hunger and food consumption will allow for a more complete and current assessment of the state of global hunger and, in turn, more effective steps to reduce hunger.

The GHI scores are based on source data that are continually revised by the United Nations agencies responsible for their compilation, and each year’s GHI report reflects these revisions. These revisions result in improvements in the data, but they also mean that the GHI scores from different years’ GHI reports are not comparable with one another. Like the 2011 GHI report, though, this year’s report has the advantage that it contains not only the most recent GHI, but also GHI scores for three other reference periods—1990, 1996, and 2001—that are, in fact, comparable with one another, allowing for in-depth analyses of trends.

Box 1: What is the Global Hunger Index?

Constructing the GHI: About the data

The 1990, 1996, 2001, and 2012 GHI scores presented in this report reflect the latest revised data for the three components of the GHI.1 Where original source data were not available, estimates were made for the GHI components based on the most recent data available. The “child mortality” and “undernourishment” components for the 1990, 1996, and 2001 GHI scores were revised using updated data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and FAO, respectively. In addition, the 1990, 1996, 2001, and 2012 GHI scores use revised calorie data from FAO for “child underweight” estimates. The “child underweight” component of the four GHI scores includes the latest additions to the World Health Organization’s Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, the most recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) reports, and statistics from UNICEF (2012a). These enhancements in the underlying data improve the quality of the GHI.

Data for the 2012 GHI span the period 2005–10. The undernourishment data are for 2006–08 (FAO 2011a; authors’ estimates); data on child mortality are for 2010 (UNICEF 2012b); and data on child undernutrition are for the latest year for which data are available in the period 2005–10 (WHO 2012; UNICEF 2012a, c; MEASURE DHS 2012; authors’ estimates). See Appendix A for more detailed background information on the data sources for and calculations of the 1990, 1996, 2001, and 2012 GHI scores.

Concepts of Hunger

The terminology used to refer to different concepts of hunger can be confusing. “Hunger” is usually understood to refer to the discomfort associated with lack of food. FAO defines food deprivation, or “undernourishment,” specifically as the consumption of fewer than about 1,800 kilocalories a day—the minimum that most people require to live a healthy and productive life.2

“Undernutrition” goes beyond calories and signifies deficiencies in any or all of the following: energy, protein, or essential vitamins and minerals. Undernutrition is the result of inadequate intake of food—in terms of either quantity or quality—poor utilization of nutrients due to infections or other illnesses, or a combination of these factors, which are in turn caused by household food insecurity; inade­quate maternal health or child care practices; or inadequate access to health services, safe water, and sanitation. “Malnutrition” refers more broadly to both undernutrition (problems of deficiencies) and overnutrition (problems of unbalanced diets, such as consumption of too many calories in relation to requirements with or without low intake of micronutrient-rich foods).

In this report, “hunger” refers to the index based on the three indicators described above.

1. For previous GHI calculations, see von Grebmer et al. (2011); von Grebmer et al. (2010); von Grebmer et al. (2009); von Grebmer et al. (2008); IFPRI/Welthungerhilfe/Concern (2007); Wiesmann (2006a, b); and Wiesmann, Weingärtner, and Schöninger (2006). [Back]
2. FAO considers the composition of a population by age and sex to calculate its average minimum energy requirement, which varies by country (from about 1,690 kilocalories per person per day in Eritrea to 2,000 kilocalories per person per day in the Netherlands for 2006–08). The country’s average minimum energy requirement is used to estimate undernourishment (FAO 2011a). [Back]

1. For background information on the concept, see Wiesmann (2004) and Wiesmann, von Braun, and Feldbrügge (2000). [Back]
2. For a multidimensional measure of poverty, see the index developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) for the United Nations Development Programme (Alkire and Santos 2010). [Back]
3. FAO no longer publishes country-level estimates of undernourishment and dietary energy supply per capita for the Democratic Republic of Congo (FAO 2011a), which according to past reports had the largest relative and absolute increase in GHI scores since 1990. Similarly, no GHI could be calculated for Myanmar because of lack of data on undernourishment. [Back]
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