A woman walks to collect water early in the morning at a camp for internally displaced people in Bentiu, South Sudan.
Photo: Stefanie Glinski/Welthungerhilfe

Global Hunger Index 2018: Forced migration – a cause and consequence of hunger

In 2015, the world’s countries committed to achieving zero hunger by 2030. But we will not be on track to meet that goal – if combating hunger isn’t stepped up soon. And – conflict remains a major factor for hunger and displacement. These are two major conclusions to be drawn from this year’s Global Hunger Index, which Welthungerhilfe presented in Berlin, Germany, in mid-October.

“In many countries and in terms of the global average, hunger and malnutrition have declined since 2000, indicating real improvements in the lives of millions of men, women and children.” So much for the good news in this year’s Global Hunger Index (GHI), which the relief organisations Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide have now been presenting for 13 years to mark World Food Day, the 16th October. The flipside of the coin is that for the last two years, developments have remained stagnant – or have even reversed. Every day, 821 million people go to bed hungry – which is just as many as ten years ago. Around 124 million people suffer acute hunger, a striking increase from 80 million two years ago.

There are many reasons for the hard-won gains in combating hunger once again being nullified. One of them is flight and displacement – a phenomenon which affects some of the poorest and most conflict-ridden regions of the world. Professor Laura Hammond of SOAS University of London explains the close link between hunger und forced migration in the GHI.

Four truths

Taking the bare figures first, globally, there are an estimated 68.5 million displaced people, including 40 million internally displaced people, 25.4 million refugees and 3.1 million asylum seekers. “During periods of conflict, hunger may be both a cause and a consequence of forced migration,” Hammond noted, presenting the GHI in Berlin, and put some supposed truths into perspective in order to then base the Welthungerhilfe demands addressing national governments and the international community of states on them.

First: Hunger and displacement are usually the result of political circumstances – and hence have to be addressed as political problems. Second: Humanitarian action alone is an insufficient response to forced migration. As surveys have demonstrated, most forced migration is protracted. For example, it is estimated that 80 per cent of the world’s refugees have been displaced for more than ten years and 40 per cent for more than 20 years. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the average length of displacement for a refugee is 26 years – in other words, an entire generation who grow up outside their home village or town and require school and vocational education and training, employment and healthcare. Therefore, humanitarian aid and development aid need to be much more closely integrated.

Third: Most of the food-insecure displaced people are moving across short distances – to the nearest town or the nearest refugee camp. This is why it is often the poorest countries themselves that absorb the majority of displaced people. It is precisely here that people have to be supported. And fourth: “No refugee sits waiting for help,” Hammond emphasised. Despite being compelled to move, forcibly displaced people never entirely lose their agency and resilience. Policies designed to assist refugees and internally displaced people should build on their resilience instead of undermining it – for example by prohibiting them from moving through the country, owning property, or working legally – which applies e.g. to Somali refugees in Kenya.

Political will is key

Claudia Roth, vice president of the German Bundestag, drew attention to the universality of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and called on her counterparts to achieve more policy coherence. Unfair trade and finance policies had to be addressed just as urgently as the paradigm shift in refugee policy that was becoming apparent at European Union level. “It is unacceptable to have development aid made conditional on closing frontiers,” the Green Party politician stated.

If the political will is there and the significance of combating hunger is declared a matter of top priority, countries can make progress in combating hunger, as a closer look at Ethiopia and Bangladesh reveals. In both countries, the GHI score improved, having moved from the categories extremely alarming or alarming to the category serious. Among the success factors that the GHI mentions are prioritising nutrition in national policy; promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture; increasing efforts to promote women’s empowerment; investing in water, sanitation and hygiene interventions; supporting programmes to build resilience and preparedness for the adverse effects for climate change. Klaus von Grebmer of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) also recommended a clear definition of responsibilities (e.g. through a High Level Office for Combating Hunger at Presidential level) and disseminating successful strategies. And last, but not least: good governance remains one of the main success factors for poverty eradication.

Global Hunger Index 2018 – some facts

  • The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is measured with the aid of four indicators: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality. The latest respective data is used.

  • The calculated GHI scores are represented on a 100-point GHI Severity Scale, where 0 is the best score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. The scale contains five levels of the hunger situations: low (0-9.9) / moderate (10.0-19.9) / serious (20.0-34.9) / alarming (35.0-49.9), extremely alarming (50-100).

  • Among the 119 countries examined, the hunger situation was low in 40 countries, moderate in 27, serious in 45, alarming in 6 and very alarming in 1. The six countries with alarming levels of hunger are Chad, Haiti, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Yemen and Zambia; the Central African Republic suffers from a level that is extremely alarming.

  •  The level of hunger and undernutrition world-wide falls into the serious category, at a value of 20.9, down from 29.2 in 2000. In the countries included in the GHI, the share of the population that is undernourished stands at 12.3 per cent as of 2015–2017 (1999­–2001: 17.6 %). Of children under five, 27.9 per cent are stunted, based on data from 2013–2017 (1998–2002: 37.1 %), and 9.3 per cent are wasted (1998–2002: 9.7 %). The under-five mortality rate was 4.2 per cent as of 2016 (2000: 8.1 %).

  • At a regional level, the 2018 GHI scores for South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, at 30.5 and 29.4 respectively, are dramatically higher than those of other regions in the world.

  • Zimbabwe, Somalia and Central Africa Republic have the highest rates of undernourishment, ranging between 46.6 and 61.8 per cent.

  • Stunting rates are highest in Timor-Leste, Eritrea and Burundi, with at least half of the children suffering from stunting in each country.

  • Wasting is most prevalent in Djibouti, India and South Sudan, at 16.7 per cent, 21.0 per cent and 28. per cent respectively.

  • The highest under-five mortality rates are in Somalia (13.3 %), Chad (12.7 %) and Central African Republic (12.5 %).

  • For several countries, GHI scores could not be calculated because data were not available for all four GHI indicators. Yet the hunger and undernutrition situations in seven of these countries are identified as a cause for significant concern. In each of the countries – Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria – violent conflict, political unrest, and/or extreme poverty have precipitated substantial flows of forced migration, which is associated with food insecurity.

Silvia Richter, editor, Rural 21

More information and download of GHI 2018