Burundi, Chad, DR Congo, Eritrea alarmingly hungry – Report

The latest report to be released on the state of the world’s hunger, the 2011 Global Hunger Index report, has described four countries in sub-Saharan Africa as experiencing extremely alarming levels of hunger.

Themed “The challenge of hunger: taming price spikes and excessive food price volatility” the report states that a total of 26 countries have levels of hunger that are alarming or extremely alarming.

Released in Washington DC for the sixth year, in advance of World Food Day which falls on October 16, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide jointly produced report classifies Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea, all countries in sub-Saharan Africa, as countries with extremely alarming levels of hunger.

The report also tags Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo Republic, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, as having serious levels of hunger, while Angola, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Mozambique, Niger, Sierra Leone and the Yemen Republic are described as experiencing alarming levels of hunger.

Classification of the countries was  based on three equally weighted indicators: the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and child mortality rate.

The report, however, provides a picture of the past, not the present, because up-to-the-minute data are still not available.

That notwithstanding, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report 2011, states that growing demand for biofuels, extreme weather and climate change, and increased financial activity through commodity futures markets are the main causes of high and volatile food prices.

These challenges, it states, are exacerbated by historically low levels of grain reserves, export markets for staple commodities that are highly concentrated in a few countries, and lack of timely, accurate information on food production, stock levels, and price forecasting, which can lead to overreaction by policymakers and soaring prices.

“This humanitarian tragedy also underscores one of the main motivations behind the global hunger index—the need to provide information,” stressed Wolfgang Jamann, Secretary General at Welthungerhilfe. He added that “although information will not fill people’s stomachs, addressing the problem of hunger requires timely data about where and why hunger is occurring.”

For his part, Klaus Von Grebmer, Lead Author of the report and IFPRI Communications Director, stated, “the poorest and most vulnerable people bear the heaviest burden when food prices spike or swing unpredictably.”  “This report calls for action on several fronts to build resilience and mitigate the effects of volatility, particularly in countries where hunger is most severe,” he added.

Also commenting, Tom Arnold, Chief Executive at Concern Worldwide said, “The current crisis in the horn of Africa, while not unaffected by global prices, highlights the vulnerability of millions of poor people around the world to weather and other shocks, as well as the need to address the root causes of hunger.”

To tame food price volatility and protect the poor against future shocks, the report makes several policy recommendations focused on the three levels of action.

These are, addressing the drivers of food price volatility; which is tackling global market characteristics affecting volatility, including building up stocks by coordinating international food reserves and sharing information on food markets as well as building resilience for the future.

“To tackle the main drivers of excessive volatility, policymakers need to curtail biofuels subsidies and mandates, discourage the use of food crops in biofuels production, regulate financial activity in food markets, and reduce the incentives for potential excessive speculation in food commodities,” said Maximo Torero, co-author of the report and Director of the Markets, Trade and Institutions Division at IFPRI.

He further subscribed that policymakers “also need to invest in climate change adaptation and mitigation and safeguard smallholder farmers against extreme weather-related shocks.”

To build resilience to changing food prices, it is crucial to strengthen social protection systems, improve emergency preparedness, and invest in sustainable small-scale agriculture. Policymakers also need to improve livelihood opportunities for both the rural and urban poor, and strengthen the provision of basic services, such as education, healthcare, and sanitation, the report recommends.

Lead Author Klaus Von Grebmer, however said; “We already know a great deal about how to reduce vulnerability and effectively tackle poverty and hunger, now is the time to apply this knowledge so that everyone, everywhere, has access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food at all times so that they can live healthy and productive lives.”

The 2011 Global Hunger Index (GHI) is calculated for 122 developing countries and countries in transition for which data on the three components of hunger are available.

This year’s GHI reflects data from 2004 to 2009—the most recent available country-level data on the three GHI components.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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