22 December 2003, Rome -- Waging an effective fight against hunger and poverty requires locating the undernourished and impoverished and identifying the key factors that leave them particularly vulnerable.

To address the needs of decision-makers in targeting these vulnerable populations, FAO has just released its latest "hunger maps".

The new maps comprise data from 1 100 national and subnational geographical units, providing policy-makers with more precise information to design programmes that address specific local problems.

The maps show the distribution of chronic undernutrition worldwide using stunting in growth among children under five years of age as an indicator.

FAO's previous hunger maps showed country-level estimates of the percentage of undernourished people, based on the availability of food and the demographic profile of the population. They did not estimate, however, the actual number of people who are undernourished in these locations.

The current data is compiled in two maps -- one showing the percentage and the second the number of stunted children around the world.

Hunger: cause and consequence of poverty

Chronic undernutrition impairs the mental and physical development of children, keeps people from leading healthy, productive lives and hinders the economic development of countries. As a result, hunger, a consequence of poverty, is also a cause of it.

"Child undernutrition, because it involves a host of factors -- families' access to food, safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and health care -- is a better indicator of poverty than looking only at food availability or per capita income," says Prakash Shetty, Chief of FAO's Nutrition, Planning, Assessment and Evaluation Service.

"If you reduce undernutrition, you reduce poverty," he adds, "because a healthy, productive population contributes to the economic growth of communities."

Wiping hunger off the map

National estimates on the number of undernourished people are useful in charting a country's progress over time, but cannot be used to target specific villages or regions and the conditions that inflict poverty and hunger on their inhabitants.

"Because these maps look at small administrative areas within countries, they are especially useful to national decision-makers in pointing out where the problems of poverty and undernutrition are greatest," says Jeff Tschirley, Chief of FAO's Environment and Natural Resources Service.

A number of countries are using poverty and hunger maps to target food aid and public works projects to areas where the poorest people live.

The new maps were developed as part of an ongoing research project on the use of geographic information systems (GIS) for mapping poverty and food insecurity -- a collaborative initiative funded by the Government of Norway.

They also form an important element of FAO's activities under the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS) initiative set up following the World Food Summit in 1996.

Combining these maps with maps of other socio-eonomic and environmental indicators may reveal factors that contribute to hunger and suggest avenues for action.

"We are in the process of producing GIS maps that depict a variety of agro-ecological conditions: food-crop production systems, access to markets, fragile areas vulnerable to degradation. This data can then be overlayed with the data on undernutrition to show possible linkages," says Tschirley.

Maps can be made, for example, to show semi-arid agricultural areas with poor access to roads, high levels of female illiteracy and high incidence of child undernutrition.

Analysing the interplay of all these factors can help shape effective, sustainable policies to wipe hunger off the map.

Teresa Buerkle
Information Officer, FAO
[email protected]
(+39) 06 570 56146