Source: Böthling/Welthungerhilfe
ndia. Farmer uses SRI method to intensify rice production and increase yields with less water consumption, 2008

2012 Global Hunger Index

The need to produce more with less – and to do so more sustainably and in a manner that prioritizes the poor – will remain.

Improvements in global hunger since 1990 continue to be small. Although the number of undernourished people was on the rise from the mid-1990s until 2006–08, the proportion of undernourished people in the world declined in the same time period (FAO 2011a). Because the GHI measures relative hunger—that is, it refers to the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, broadly defined by the three component indicators—the index shows a positive trend. The 2012 world4 GHI fell by 26 percent from the 19905 world GHI, from a score of 19.8 to 14.7 (Figure 2.1).

Figure 2.1 - Contribution of components to 1990 GHI, 1996 GHI, 2001 GHI, and 2012 GHI, by region


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The three indicators contributed differently to the decline in the world GHI score since 1990. A decline in child underweight lowered the world GHI score by 2.7 points, whereas changes in the child mortality rate and the proportion of undernourished people in the population contributed reductions of 1.1 and 1.3 points, respectively.

The world GHI declined most rapidly—by 2.6 points—between 1990 and 1996, and progress slowed thereafter. Undernourishment and underweight in children improved most between 1990 and 1996, whereas progress in reducing child mortality has accelerated since 2001. The proportion of undernourished people has remained almost constant at the global level since 1995–97, falling by just 1 percentage point. The index for hunger in the world, however, remains “serious.”

Large Regional and National Differences

These global averages mask dramatic differences among regions and countries. Compared with the 1990 score, the 2012 GHI score was 16 percent lower in Sub-Saharan Africa, 26 percent lower in South Asia, and 35 percent lower in the Near East and North Africa (Figure 2.1). Progress in Southeast Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean was particularly remarkable, with the GHI scores decreasing by 46 percent and 44 percent respectively (although the score was already low in the latter region). In Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, the 2012 GHI score was 46 percent lower than the 1996 score.6

Southeast Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced a fairly consistent reduction in GHI scores since 1990. In the Near East and North Africa, the decrease of GHI scores has accelerated after a period of virtual stagnation between 1990 and 1996. In South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa—the two regions with the highest GHI scores, at 22.5 and 20.7 respectively—the rates of progress have also been uneven.

Among the regions, South Asia has the highest 2012 GHI score. South Asia reduced its GHI score by more than 6 points between 1990 and 1996—mainly through a large 15-percentage-point decline in underweight in children—but this rapid progress could not be maintained. Stagnation followed, and the region has lowered its GHI score by only about 2 points since 2001 despite strong economic growth (see Box 2.1). The proportion of undernourished people did not decline between 1995–97 and 2006–08 and even showed a transient increase of about 2 percentage points around 2000–02. Social inequality and the low nutritional, educational, and social status of women are major causes of child undernutrition in this region and have impeded improvements in the GHI score.

Though Sub-Saharan Africa made less progress than South Asia in the 1990s, it has caught up since the turn of the millennium, with its 2012 GHI score falling below that of South Asia. However, South Asia’s overall decline was greater because Sub-Saharan Africa began with a lower GHI score in 1990. Sub-Saharan Africa’s GHI score increased marginally between 1990 and 1996, fell slightly until 2001, and declined more markedly until the period reflected in the 2012 GHI score. The large-scale civil wars of the 1990s and 2000s ended, and former conflict countries became more politically stable. Economic growth resumed on the continent, and advances in the fight against HIV and AIDS contributed to a reduction in child mortality in the countries most affected by the epidemic.

Since 2001, child mortality rates—both for infants and for children under the age of five—have declined in Sub-Saharan ­Africa. While a range of factors may have played a role, a major reason seems to be the decrease in the prevalence of malaria, which coincided with the increased use of insecticide-treated bed nets and other antimalarial interventions (Demombynes and Trommlerová 2012). Other factors that may have contributed to reduced mortality rates include higher immunization rates and births in medical centers; improved antenatal care and access to clean water and sanitation facilities; and increasing levels of income, leading to better nutrition and access to medical care.

The recent crisis in the Horn of Africa, which intensified in 2011, is not reflected in the 2012 GHI. The crisis, and the current situ­ation in the Sahel (see Box 2.2), demonstrates that, though the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa is improving, food security remains fragile in parts of the region and vulnerability to shocks is still high.

Best and Worst Country-Level Results

From the 1990 GHI to the 2012 GHI, 15 countries reduced their scores by 50 percent or more (Figure 2.2). Forty-four countries made modest progress, reducing their GHI scores by between 25 and 49.9 percent, and 21 countries decreased their GHI scores by less than 25 percent.7 Only one country in Sub-Saharan Africa—Ghana—is among the 10 best performers in improving their GHI score since 1990 (Figure 2.3). Turkey’s notable progress since 1990 is due mainly to significant reductions in the prevalence of child underweight (which fell by almost 7 percentage points) and child mortality (which fell by about 6 percentage points), while undernourishment in the country remained very low. After 1996 Turkey’s GHI score began to decline substantially, and between the 2001 GHI and the 2012 GHI, its score was halved. Kuwait’s progress in reducing hunger is due mainly to its unusually high score in 1990, when Iraq invaded the country: its GHI score fell by more than 5 points (or 57 percent) until 1996, and has fallen by about 1 point since (see country trends in Appendix C).

Figure 2.2 - Country progress in reducing GHI scores

(percentage decrease in 2012 GHI compared with 1990 GHI)


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Figure 2.3 - GHI Winners and Losers from 1990 GHI to 2012 GHI


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With the exception of North Korea, all the countries in which the hunger situation worsened from the 1990 GHI to the 2012 GHI are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Increased hunger since 1990 in Burundi, Comoros, and Côte d’Ivoire can be attributed to prolonged conflict and political instability. In Comoros, the GHI score fell after a peak in 2001, but it is not yet clear if this constitutes a reversal of past trends. Between 1990 and 2001, Burundi’s GHI score increased steadily, but it has declined slightly since. With the transition to peace and political stability that started in 2003, the country began a slow recovery from decades of economic decline. However, its high level of undernourishment remains a serious issue: the proportion of undernourished people has been rising, although the rate of increase has now slowed. The prevalence of child underweight has declined since 2000, but it remains one of the highest in Sub-Saharan Africa. The country’s child mortality rate has been improving, mainly since 2001 (see country trends in Appendix C).

In Côte d’Ivoire, the 1999 military coup and the 2002–07 civil war contributed significantly to the high level of hunger in the country. Since 2001, its GHI score has increased by 1.6 points (see country trends in Appendix C). Between 1999 and 2007, the prevalence of child underweight rose by 10 percentage points. Recent research examining the impact of the civil war on child health found that children residing in regions more affected by the conflict had significant health setbacks compared with children in less-affected regions (Minoiu and Shemyakina 2012).

For the Democratic Republic of Congo, another conflict-ridden country in Sub-Saharan Africa and by far the worst performer in terms of GHI scores in past GHI reports, data availability is no longer sufficient to calculate the GHI (see note 3 in Chapter 1). Renewed efforts should be made to collect high-quality data in order to fill current gaps.

In Swaziland, the HIV and AIDS epidemic, along with high income inequality, has severely undermined food security despite growth in national income. In 2009, Swaziland’s adult HIV prevalence was estimated at 26 percent—the highest in the world (UNAIDS 2010). Although the country’s GHI scores worsened throughout the 1990s, the negative trend has been partly reversed since 2001. Swaziland and several other African countries have made great strides in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and child mortality rates have dropped again after a peak around 2003 (UNAIDS 2010; IGME 2011). Botswana and Lesotho have also been heavily affected by HIV and AIDS and have benefited from advances in treatment and improved access to anti-retroviral drugs. The pattern in their GHI scores is similar to that of Swaziland, with peaks in 2001, caused partly by transient increases in undernourishment and partly by rises in child mortality up to 2001 (see country trends in Appendix C).

In North Korea, widespread starvation threatened in 1995 but was averted by large-scale food-aid deliveries (CIA 2012). The country’s GHI rose sharply between 1990 and 1996 and has declined only slightly since, providing evidence of chronic food insecurity in spite of considerable international humanitarian assistance (see country trends in Appendix C). A weak economy, high military spending, weather-related crop failures, and systemic problems in the agriculture sector have hampered progress (CIA 2012).

Some countries achieved noteworthy absolute progress in improving their GHI scores. Between the 1990 GHI and the 2012 GHI, Angola, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nicaragua, Niger, and Vietnam saw the largest improvements—by 13 points or more—in their scores. In Burundi and Comoros, however, the GHI rose by about 6 and 4 points, respectively.

Twenty countries still have levels of hunger that are “extremely alarming” or “alarming” (Figure 2.4). Most of the countries with alarming GHI scores are in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Two of the three countries with extremely alarming 2012 GHI scores—Burundi and Eritrea—are in Sub-Saharan Africa; the third country is Haiti. Haiti’s GHI score fell by about one quarter from 1990 to 2001, but most of this improvement was reversed in subsequent years (see Box 2.3 and country trends in Appendix C). The devastating January 2010 earthquake, although not yet fully captured by the 2012 GHI because of insufficient availability of recent data, pushed Haiti back into the category of “extremely alarming.”

Figure 2.4 - 2012 Global Hunger Index by severity


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In terms of the GHI components, Burundi, Eritrea, and Haiti currently have the highest proportion of undernourished people—more than 50 percent of the population.8 Bangladesh, India, and Timor-Leste have the highest prevalence of underweight in children under five—more than 40 percent in all three countries. Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Somalia have the highest under-five mortality rate, ranging from 17 to 18 percent.


4. The “world” includes all developing countries for which the GHI has been calculated; it also includes Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Somalia, for which data on child underweight and child mortality are available or could be estimated and provisional estimates of undernourishment were provided by FAO only for the purpose of regional and global aggregation. Because much of the data for these countries is estimated or provisional, country GHI scores were not calculated. As noted earlier, data for some other countries are not available, and most high-income countries are excluded from the GHI calculation. [Back]
5. The year 1990 was chosen for comparison because it is the reference point for achieving the targets under the Millennium Development Goals. [Back]
6. For Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, the 1996 GHI score was used for comparison because data are not available to calculate the 1990 score. [Back]
7. The numbers in this sentence and the previous one refer to the 86 countries for which (1) data for the 1990 and 2012 GHI scores are available and (2) either or both of those scores is greater than 5.[Back]
8. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, which are likely to have high proportions of undernourished as well, could not be included in this comparison because of lack of data. [Back]
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