Hunger is worsening. Globally, there is now a total of 29 countries suffering from food shortage according to the 2009 Global Hunger Index. In Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo scored the worst, followed by Burundi, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Chad, and Ethiopia. Hunger remains distressingly high throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The countries mentioned have alarming of hunger, and thirteen countries have actually seen increases in their hunger levels since 1990. And of the ten countries that have seen the largest increase in their Index scores, nine are in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) score has increased by an appalling 53 percent.
Africa is also home to the highest proportion of undernourished people (76 and 68 percent of the population, respectively, in the DRC and Eritrea) and the world’s highest child mortality rate, which stands at 26 percent in Sierra Leone.
Since 1990, the global score has declined by less than 25 percent. Most of this progress has been made in Southeast Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, which have lowered their Index scores by more than 40 percent over the past two decades.
Despite some progress over the past 20 years, the situation is also alarming in South Asia, which actually scored worse than Sub-Saharan Africa on the 2009 Global Hunger Index, largely because of widespread child malnutrition.
In Bangladesh and India, more than 40 percent of children are underweight. Sri Lanka, which has been committed to universal education and reproductive health care, has been successful at reducing hunger, and stands out as an important exception in the region.
The Index, which ranks countries on three leading indicators—prevalence of child malnutrition, rates of child mortality, and the proportion of people who are calorie deficient—and combines them into one score, was released in advance of World Food Day, October 16. Overall, the 2009 Index illustrates that despite regional differences, progress in reducing hunger remains slow.
What is new on this year’s index is that high rates of hunger are strongly linked to gender inequalities, especially in terms of literacy and access to education, and highlights which countries are most vulnerable to the global economic downturn.
In South Asia, women’s low social status and limited access to schooling have resulted in dire consequences for the nutrition, health, and wellbeing of both mothers and their children.
Low-income countries are being hurt by the food and financial crises. The crises have significantly reduced purchasing power and income-earning opportunities for poor people, who spend up to 70 percent of their income on food, while food prices in many countries are still higher than several years ago.