LONDON (AlertNet) - Some of the world's large emerging economies show less political commitment to tackling hunger and inadequate nutrition than poorer states, the Institute of Development Studies said on Thursday in a report on a new index it has published.
Guatemala takes the top slot in the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI), which ranks 45 developing countries and names Guinea Bissau as the worst performer.
Of the rising economic powers, Brazil is in fourth place and Indonesia seventh overall. But China, South Africa and India rank 22, 23 and 29 respectively - performing especially poorly on nutrition.
The report says economic growth has not necessarily led to government action to tackle hunger and undernutrition.
"For growth to have maximum impact, the poor must benefit from the growth process, enabling them to use additional income for improving the quantity and quality of their diets, and for accessing health and sanitation services, whereas governments need to use additional resources for public goods and services to benefit the poor and hungry," the report says.
In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, many countries have achieved substantial and sustained economic growth over the last decade, which should allow their governments to make headway on reducing hunger and undernutrition, according the report. But progress has stagnated in sub-Saharan Africa and has been too slow in South Asia, it added.
Conversely, low levels of wealth or slow economic growth do not automatically imply less political commitment. In Africa, for example, several smaller economies - Malawi, Madagascar and Gambia - are leading the charge against hunger and undernutrition, leaving behind economically more powerful states, including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya and Angola, the report says.
"Where high levels of political commitment exist, we could see dramatic decreases in the levels of illness and death caused by chronic hunger and to the irreversible damage to the physical and mental development of children caused by undernutrition," said IDS researcher Dolf te Lintelo. "With millions of lives at stake, it is essential that we create greater public accountability on this key development issue."
The IDS index analyses government efforts on hunger and undernutrition, rather than the levels themselves. It also differentiates between the two. Hunger is the result of an empty stomach, whereas undernutrition can be caused by a lack of nutrients in people's diets or illness due to poor sanitation, the report says.
Hunger affects around 870 million people around the world, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation. Undernutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under five each year.
TWO DIFFERENT PROBLEMS
Policies to address the two problems vary. For example, governments may improve sanitation, leading to better nutrition levels among children, but this does little to reduce hunger. Likewise, emergency food aid can ease hunger but is not aimed at achieving balanced diets, the report says.
The index uses 22 indicators of political commitment to compare states' efforts on hunger and undernutrition separately, but also produces a combined ranking. The indicators cover three main areas of government: policies and programmes aimed at tackling undernutrition or hunger; legal frameworks, including people's rights to food and social security; and levels of public spending on agriculture and health.
Even though Guatemala still has one of the world’s highest child stunting rates, at 48 percent, its hunger and nutrition situation is gradually improving thanks to government action to increase access to safe drinking water and good sanitation, and to implement a Zero Hunger Plan to reduce chronic malnutrition in children under five years old, the report says.
Local people consulted by researchers in three case-study countries - Bangladesh, Malawi and Zambia - said they appreciated government policies and programmes to tackle hunger and undernutrition, but were often critical of their limited reach and inequitable outcomes.
"Communities emphasised that they want government action to enable them to help themselves, for example, through appropriate agricultural extension services; through ensuring that economies generate sufficiently remunerative jobs; and through ensuring that discriminatory practices against women are tackled," says the report.