Work goes on to map the world's hungry

The much-quoted landmark goal of the 1996 World Food Summit (WFS) is to reduce the number of undernourished people in the world at least by half by the year 2015. The steps toward this goal are less often referred to, not least because of their complexity.

In order to effectively fight hunger, one must be sure where the hungry people are today, where they are likely to be tomorrow, and why they are hungry. For this reason, one of the basic tasks governments committed themselves to at the Summit was the development of FIVIMS - Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems.

The World Food Summit Plan of Action recommended that such systems be established at global, national and subnational levels. The systems not only identify hungry people and those who may potentially become hungry, they also provide information about the causes of their food insecurity and vulnerability - factors as diverse as poverty, inadequate marketing infrastructure, drought or civil strife that leave them exposed to the threat of hunger. 

Following the WFS, the FIVIMS initiative has been taken up by an Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) with members from a wide range of international organizations interested in improving information on food insecurity. FAO provides the secretariat for the IAWG and facilitates information exchange among the partners. The IAWG has held two meetings so far, the first in December 1997 and the second in April 1998. A third meeting is scheduled for October-November 1998. The first two meetings were devoted primarily to the discussion and finalization of the draft Guidelines for National FIVIMS, which will be submitted for approval by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) at its forthcoming session in June 1998. 

FIVIMS use existing information-gathering systems and promote the sharing of information between partners, at national and international levels, to cut costs and save time.

There are many ways in which information related to FIVIMS can be gathered. Food balance sheets - based on per caput food availability and distribution - are useful to measure the extent of chronic undernutrition. Anthropometric indicators - weight/height, height/age, weight/age, body mass indices (BMIs) and others - are all useful tools for assessing children's and adults' nutritional status. Direct information on food availability and consumption, and information about food stocks, trade, wages and labour market conditions have also been identified as useful inputs to FIVIMS. National household surveys gathering information on income, spending and consumption also play a part.

In Chile, work on information systems useful to FIVMS was under way before the WFS. Here a geographical information system (GIS) is used to show the distribution of undernourished people in the Araucania region.

FAO's Ezzeddine Boutrif, Coordinator of FIVIMS, said, "Many countries had already started working on information systems useful to FIVIMS before the WFS and they are now quite advanced." He singled out Brazil, Chile, Peru and Venezuela in Latin America, and Mozambique and Zambia in Africa for special mention. FIVIMS in other countries are in different stages of development. Progress in information gathering, analysis and dissemination is now more coordinated in many of these countries, according to Boutrif, and a global FIVIMS is being set up.

The June 1998 session of the CFS is expected to agree on indicators to be used in the global FIVIMS. Retired FAO expert in food security, Ram Saran, has been working on identifying the indicators most appropriate for monitoring food security in different parts of the world. (Go to interview with Ram Saran and Barbara Huddleston on FIVIMS). 

Barbara Huddleston, Chief of the Food Security and Agricultural Projects Analysis Service (ESAF) - the FAO service involved in the IAWG - sees the development of FIVIMS as a gradual, interactive process. "As better [national] data become available, they will flow into global FIVIMS through various linked international databases", explained Huddleston. "Improved data will make possible improved analyses, both within countries and internationally." Huddleston is enthusiastic about the work in progress: "With FIVIMS, FAO and its many partners have embarked on an exciting era of information development that should make it easier for all concerned to tackled directly and effectively the problems of food insecurity and undernutrition that we have set out to eradicate."

11 May 1998

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