Addressing the root causes of recurrent crises is not only better than only responding to the consequences of crises, it is also much cheaper.
-European Commission, 2012
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, and food and nutrition insecurity. By raising awareness and understanding of regional and country differences, the GHI, it is hoped, will trigger actions to reduce hunger.
A number of different indicators can be used to measure hunger (Box 1.1). To reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger, the GHI combines three equally weighted indicators into one index:
- Undernourishment: the proportion of undernourished people as a percentage of the population (reflecting the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake)
- 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
- Child mortality: the mortality rate of children younger than age five (partially reflecting the fatal synergy of inadequate food intake and unhealthy environments).2
Box 1.1 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,” 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.*
“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; these in turn are 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 component indicators described on this page.* FAO considers the composition of a population by age and sex to calculate its average minimum energy requirement, which varies by country (from about 1,650 to more than 2,000 kilocalories per person per day for 2010–2012 according to FAO 2013a). The country’s average minimum energy requirement is used to estimate undernourishment (FAO 2012).
This multidimensional approach to measuring hunger 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, or death. In addition, combining independently measured indicators reduces the effects of random measurement errors.3
The 2013 GHI has been calculated for 120 countries for which data on the three component indicators 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 the most recent available country-level data for the three component indicators spanning the period 2008 to 2012. It is thus a snapshot not of the present, but of the recent past. For some countries, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Somalia, lack of data on undernourishment prevents the calculation of GHI scores.4
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. While these revisions result in improvements in the data, they also mean that the GHI scores from different years’ reports are not comparable with one another. This year’s report contains GHI scores for four other reference periods—1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005—besides the most recent GHI, and so expands the scope of the trend analyses in comparison with previous reports.
The 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2013 GHI scores presented in this report reflect the latest revised data for the three component indicators of the GHI.5 Where original source data were not available, estimates for the GHI component indicators were used that are based on the most recent data available. (See Appendix A for more detailed background information on the data sources for and calculations of the 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2013 GHI scores.)
Box 1.2 How GHI Scores are Calculated
A country’s GHI score is calculated by averaging the percentage of the population that is undernourished, the percentage of children younger than five years old who are underweight, and the percentage of children dying before the age of five. This calculation results in a 100-point scale on which zero is the best score (no hunger) and 100 the worst, although neither of these extremes is reached in practice. A value of 100 would be reached only if all children died before their fifth birthday, the whole population was undernourished, and all children younger than five were underweight. A value of zero would mean that a country had no undernourished people in the population, no children younger than five who were underweight, and no children who died before their fifth birthday. The scale at the right shows the severity of hunger—from “low” to “extremely alarming”—associated with the range of possible GHI scores.
The three component indicators used to calculate the GHI scores in this report draw upon data from the following sources:
- Undernourishment: Updated data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) were used for the 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005, and 2013 GHI scores. Undernourishment data for the 2013 GHI are for 2010–2012 (FAO 2013a; authors’ estimates). In order to provide more timely data that integrate all relevant information, the FAO has revised its methodology for estimating undernourishment. Its estimates now consider findings from a much larger number of household surveys that have become available in recent years and, for the first time, estimates of food losses at the retail level (FAO 2012).
- Child underweight: The “child underweight” component indicator of the GHI scores in this report includes the latest additions to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, and additional data from the joint database by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WHO, and the World Bank; the most recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey reports; and statistical tables from UNICEF. For the 2013 GHI, data on child underweight are for the latest year for which data are available in the period 2008–2012 (WHO 2013; UNICEF/WHO/World Bank 2012; UNICEF 2013a, b; MEASURE DHS 2013; authors’ estimates).
- Child mortality: Updated data from the UN Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation were used for the 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005, and 2013 GHI scores. For the 2013 GHI, data on child mortality are for 2011 (IGME 2012).
Despite the existence of abundant technological tools to collect and assess data almost instantaneously, time lags and data gaps persist in reporting vital statistics on hunger and undernutrition. While there have been some recent improvements, more up-to-date, reliable, and extensive country data continue to be urgently needed. Further improvements in collecting high-quality data on hunger will allow for a more complete and current assessment of the state of global hunger and, in turn, more effective steps to reduce hunger.
2 According to recent estimates, undernutrition is responsible for 45 percent of deaths of children younger than five years (Black et al. 2013).
3 For a multidimensional measure of poverty, see the index developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative for the United Nations Development Programme (Alkire and Santos 2010).
4 FAO stopped publishing country-level estimates of undernourishment for the Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar in 2011 (FAO 2011). According to past GHI reports, the GHI score of the Democratic Republic of Congo was in the “extremely alarming” category with the highest levels of hunger. For South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, and Sudan, separate undernourishment estimates are not yet available from FAO (FAO 2013a). Therefore GHI scores calculated for former Sudan refer to the population of both countries.
5 For previous GHI calculations, see von Grebmer et al. (2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008); IFPRI/Welthungerhilfe/Concern (2007); Wiesmann (2006a, b); and Wiesmann, Weingärtner, and Schöninger (2006).