HANCI 2013 – new evidence on the commitment to reducing hunger and undernutrition

It is a year since HEART published its Nutrition Topic Guide, which synthesized evidence of the unacceptably high levels of hunger and undernutrition. Much of the evidence came from the 2013 Lancet Series on maternal and child nutrition. A whole chapter of the Topic Guide was focused on the implementation of nutrition programmes and the international architecture, reflecting the recent drive towards researching the enabling environment.

Contributing further to this theme, today the Institute of Development Studies launched the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI) report for 2013, which measures political commitment to tackling hunger and undernutrition in 45 developing countries. The first HANCI report was published in 2012, and the new report continues the analysis. The principle idea of HANCI is to compare national performance of political commitment to reduce hunger and undernutrition, taking into consideration policies and programmes, legal frameworks and public expenditures. The report is based on primary data in the form of Expert Perception Surveys (EPS) and secondary data analyses of 22 indicators.

Importantly, commitment to reducing hunger is separated from commitment to reducing undernutrition. This is because some interventions may be linked to either undernutrition or hunger, but not necessarily both. For example improved sanitation can improve nutrition, but the relationship to hunger is less clear. Conversely, emergency food aid, or subsidised food in ration shops aims to reduce hunger, while the relationship to nutrition is less clear. Before considering the results, it is first important to understand the terminology. The report defines hunger and undernutrition as follows:

Hunger is the result of an empty stomach. It makes people more susceptible to disease and thus leads to increased illness and death. Hunger strongly undermines development. To cope with hunger families may choose to sell vital assets, such as farming tools, often perpetuating their vulnerability to hunger.

Undernutrition involves a critical lack of nutrients in people’s diets which makes them susceptible to infectious diseases, impairs physical and mental development, reduces their labour productivity and increases risk of premature death. Adequate nutrition in the first 1000 days of life, from conception until the age of two is especially important as it poor nutrition during this time can affect the child’s lifelong ability to learn, earn income and sustain their livelihoods, and thus perpetuates poverty.

By separating hunger and undernutrition, HANCI 2013 provides an insight of how the governments from the 45 countries have set their priorities. One of the take away messages from the new report is that hunger and undernutrition are not the same thing and that policies to tackle one may not have an effect on the other. The commitment to address both issues must be analysed separately, yet concurrently.

Some other key findings from the report include:

  • Globally, levels of hunger and undernutrition remain unacceptably high.
  • Economic growth has not necessarily led to a commitment from governments to tackle hunger and undernutrition.
  • Committed government action on hunger and nutrition may be held back by weak public demand.
  • Political leadership on nutrition may be held back by relatively low levels of understanding of the causes and possible solutions for undernutrition.
  • Guatemala retains the number one position in terms of positive political commitment on the HANCI, despite declining commitment scores. Guatemala continues to be positioned number one on the Hunger Reduction Commitment Index (HRCI) sub-index; however, it recorded declining commitment scores for both sub-indices, and it hence no longer tops the Nutrition Commitment Index (NCI) sub-index as it did in the HANCI 2012.
  • Polarisation in the lower regions of the index is a cause for concern for some of the countries, and cause for cautious optimism in others.
  • Some low ranked countries are demonstrating a clear improvement in commitment.
  • Guinea Bissau, Sudan and Myanmar languish at the bottom of the rankings.

Blog by Stephen Thompson, Research Officer with the Health & Education Advice & Resources Team (HEART)

For more information on HANCI please visit their website. HANCI has been produced by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) with funding from Irish Aid and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

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