A guest blog by IDS researcher Dolf te Lintelo
As food banks rapidly become the face of food insecurity in western countries reeling under austerity, welfare reforms and stagnating economies, hunger and undernutrition remain stubbornly widespread in the developing world. Globally hunger affects around 870 million people and undernutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under five each year. Yet, quite unlike the West, global hotspots of hunger and undernutrition in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa witness substantial and sustained economic growth.
Such growth, managed well, can widen tax and public investment bases, to offer clear potential for governments of developing countries to address the two scourges of hunger and undernutrition. Internationally, we know what kind of public interventions work, and we also know that these investments are simply good economics.
So, the resources available for action are bigger than ever and we know what interventions can best address these.
Sadly, we know far less about what actions governments do and do not take to address hunger and undernutrition. National and international bodies have long focused on measuring hunger and nutrition statuses, which clearly is important, but is not enough to foster greater accountability of governments and political leaders for their (lack of) action.
Today, the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (www.hancindex.org) is launched. It measures political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition in 45 developing countries by focusing on 22 policy, legal and spending indicators. This index first compares and ranks countries for government inputs and outputs, and only then assesses these within their contexts of wealth, administrative capacity and hunger and undernutrition prevalence.
This leads to some intriguing and counter-intuitive findings.
First, the commitment to reduce hunger may be quite a different entity than the commitment to reduce undernutrition. For instance, Nepal ranks 3rd for undernutrition reduction commitment, and 34th for hunger reduction commitment.
Second, some of the poorest developing countries are showing the greatest political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition. Low income countries like Malawi and Madagascar and lower middle income Guatemala, are leading the charge against hunger and undernutrition, whilst economic powerhouses such as India and Nigeria are failing some of their most vulnerable citizens.
Third, the index not only shows that low wealth is no barrier to committed action, it also highlights that sustained economic growth does not guarantee that governments will make tackling hunger or undernutrition a priority. This may help explain why many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia remain blighted by high levels of hunger and undernutrition.
Accelerating the reduction of shocking levels of hunger and undernutrition will require strong and dedicated public action. Yet, without greater accountability, incentives for political leaders to act on hunger and undernutrition will remain limited. The HANCI, constitutes an innovative tool helps all those who want to hold their governments to account: it allows for naming, shaming and praising.
About the author
Dr Dolf te Lintelo is a Fellow in the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team.