Global hunger index: Intersection of conflict and hunger
Without achieving food security, it will be difficult to build sustainable peace
India slips further in global hunger index (Image: Parij Borgohain, Pixabay)

The 2021 Global Hunger Index (GHI) points to a dire hunger situation in a world coping with multiple crises. Progress toward Zero Hunger by 2030, already far too slow, is showing signs of stagnating or even being reversed.

A recent report ‘Global hunger index: Hunger and food systems in conflict settings’ by Welt Hunger Hilfe and Concern Worldwide looks at the links between hunger and conflict.

India scored 101 in the GHI this year (2021). The GHI score of India year-wise has been - 38.8 (2000), 37.4 (2006), 28.8 (2012) and 27.5 (2021). As per the GHI Severity Score, GHI between 20–34.9 is serious while that between 35–49.9 is alarming and above 50 is extremely alarming.

The fight against hunger is dangerously off track

Based on current GHI projections, the world as a whole—and 47 countries in particular—will fail to achieve a low level of hunger by 2030. Conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic— three of the most powerful and toxic forces driving hunger—threaten to wipe out any progress that has been made against hunger in recent years.

The consequences of climate change are becoming ever more apparent and costly, but the world has developed no fully effective mechanism to mitigate, much less reverse, it. And the COVID-19 pandemic, which has spiked in different parts of the world throughout 2020 and 2021, has shown just how vulnerable we are to global contagion and the associated health and economic consequences.

Global progress is slowing, and hunger remains stubbornly high in some regions

Evidence shows current setbacks against hunger and suggests trouble ahead. Although GHI scores show that global hunger has been on the decline since 2000, progress is slowing. While the GHI score for the world fell 4.7 points, from 25.1 to 20.4, between 2006 and 2012, it has fallen just 2.5 points since 2012. After decades of decline, the global prevalence of undernourishment—one of the four indicators used to calculate GHI scores—is increasing.

This shift may be a harbinger of reversals in other measures of hunger. In both Africa South of the Sahara and South Asia, hunger is considered serious. Africa South of the Sahara has the highest rates of undernourishment, child stunting, and child mortality of any region of the world.

South Asia’s high hunger level is driven largely by child undernutrition, particularly as measured by child wasting. In the regions of Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, East and Southeast Asia, and West Asia and North Africa, hunger levels are low or moderate.

Hunger remains serious, alarming, or extremely alarming in nearly 50 countries

Hunger has been identified as serious in 31 countries and is provisionally categorized as serious in 6 additional countries. Since 2012, hunger has increased in 10 countries with moderate, serious, or alarming hunger levels, in some cases reflecting a stagnation of progress and in others signalling an intensification of an already precarious situation.

Fourteen countries have achieved significant improvements in hunger, with a reduction of 25 percent or more between their 2012 and 2021 GHI scores. However, wide variations in children’s nutritional status, even within countries’ borders, are pervasive and can be obscured by national averages.

Global Hunger Index Score, 2021 for countries in South, East and Southeast Asia (Source: WHH and Concern Worldwide) 

Violent conflict drives hunger

The two-way links between hunger and conflict are well established. Violent conflict is destructive to virtually every aspect of a food system, from production, harvesting, processing, and transport to input supply, financing, marketing, and consumption. At the same time, heightened food insecurity can contribute to violent conflict.

Without resolving food insecurity, it is difficult to build sustainable peace, and without peace the likelihood of ending global hunger is minimal.

Breaking the links between conflict and hunger can advance both food security and peace

It is possible to begin to break the destructive links between conflict and hunger and to build resilience, even amid conflict and extreme vulnerability. Working together, actors such as states, community groups, local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and United Nations agencies can create conditions for food security and sustainable peace.

Some of the policy recommendations as per the report are –

The success of the recently concluded United Nations Food Systems Summit should be judged on how well it generates concrete and transformative long-term action to get to Zero Hunger, to respect, protect, and fulfill the human right to food, and to leave no one behind in light of the conflict, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although addressing conflict ultimately requires political solutions and societal change, integrating a peace-building lens into the creation of resilient food systems and a food security lens into peace building can help advance both sustainable food and nutrition security and durable peace.

Enhance the resilience of food systems to simultaneously address the impacts of conflict and climate change and to ensure food and nutrition security

Governments and donors must promote interventions in conflict settings that link immediate and long-term livelihood needs, as well as reconciliation and peace building.

In conflict-affected areas that lack access to wider markets, governments and donors must promote climate-resilient and diversified farming practices and strengthen local markets to generate employment along the food value chain, allowing community members to diversify their production, increase their income, and boost their nutritional intake and food security.

Social protection measures such as cash and voucher assistance are essential to enhance the resilience of rural food economies and of households affected by shocks and stressors.

Base actions on a thorough understanding of the context, and strengthen inclusive, locally-led initiatives

Humanitarian, development, and peace-building actors must engage in systemic and ongoing analysis of the context. All programs and interventions must identify the causes of and actors in any conflict and must design programming with an understanding of existing power relations, placing affected people at the center.

Partnerships should bring together local, national, and international actors. All actors should work with and build on local structures, which have the potential to provide the most effective and timely support, are likely to incorporate local understandings of peace, and can increase the legitimacy, ownership, and sustainability of interventions.

All actors must address the need for transparency, accountability, and inclusive participation of those who are most vulnerable. This includes ensuring women’s meaningful participation in all activities, including peace-building efforts.

Commit to flexible, need-based, cross-sectoral, and multiyear planning and financing

Donors, UN agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and local actors should strive to build and maintain cross-sectoral and long-term relationships. This requires multiyear donor investments in long-term development and peacebuilding that are adaptable to the highly fluid and dynamic contexts of conflict and crisis. Funding priorities must follow a flexible and agile approach that reflects local perceptions, aspirations, and concerns.

All actors’ roles across the humanitarian–development–peacebuilding nexus must be clearly defined and sufficiently supported. Funding must be based on needs and not fall prey to security or political agendas.

Address conflict on a political level, strengthen international law, and ensure accountability for rights violations

States must live up to their responsibility to end protracted crises, but donor countries, key UN agencies, and regional bodies must also address conflict and its consequences, including through a food and nutrition security lens.

Given widespread violations of the right to food during the conflict, the recurring use of starvation as a method of warfare, and denial of humanitarian access, it is vital that the UN and its member states strengthen international humanitarian law and vigorously prosecute and sanction those who use starvation as a weapon of war.

Lead the way to fundamentally change food systems

Governments must actively follow up on the UN Food Systems Summit by addressing the structural challenges—including inequities, market failures, health risks, and environmental and climate threats—embedded in our food systems. Actions must put vulnerable people at the center of food policies and build on existing responsibilities such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and human rights treaties.

Multilateral food governance must be anchored in human rights and meaningful participation of civil society and communities.

Governments must use upcoming opportunities, including the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) and the 2021 Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit, to reinforce their commitments to achieving Zero Hunger by investing in nutrition and resilience in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

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