Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 181, 22 October 2020

Global Hunger Index: South Asia remains undernourished, even today
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020 has found that Africa and South Asia have the worst hunger conditions and highest undernutrition levels among regions across the world. Both have a GHI score of 27.8 and 26.0, respectively, higher than the global score of 18.2. In 2019, both had the highest regional GHI scores at 29.3 and 28.4, respectively.

The GHI scores are calculated based on four parameters: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. The GHI classifies the countries on a 100-point scale; 0 being the best and 100 being the worst. A score between 20.0-34.9 places the region or country under the 'serious' category. The GHI is an annual report jointly published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe. It was first published in 2006 and has since been published every October. The GHI results published this year are based on data collected from 2015 to 2019.

Issues at large
First, South Asia has the largest number of undernourished people in the world. South Asia's prevalence of undernourishment during 2017–19 was 13.4 per cent. While this rate is lower than that for Africa, south of Sahara, South Asia has the highest number of undernourished people in absolute terms, with 255 million people undernourished in the region.

Second, limited scope and understanding of early childhood care. The misplaced notion that childcare starts after the birth needs to be addressed. Maternal health and education are equally important to address hunger because problems like undernourishment can be traced to inadequate maternal health.

Third, the pandemic has worsened and undone progress made over the last few years. The latest GHI report does not take into account the impact of the pandemic. Therefore, the current scores do not reflect the setbacks of 2020. For example, a research brief published by UNICEF in July 2020 highlights that nearly 22 million children in South Asia missed out on early childhood care and education (ECCE) which is closely linked with the growth of children.

In perspective
The GHI has exposed the gaps in the world's food system. One possible explanation is the exclusion of human security from the discourse on conflict management at the global level. Traditionally, security threats have been state-centric than people-centric. Issues relating to food security, access to healthcare are viewed as a part of a country's internal affairs. Though the scope of security is expanding, the process has been slow and limited. Large-scale regional or global cooperation is the need of the hour to address the dire hunger problem. Further, though the media in South countries have highlighted the GHI reports, governments have not acknowledged the report. This could indicate a lack of urgency to address hunger as an important issue.

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