By Emily Stephenson
WASHINGTON | Mon Oct 11, 2010 1:18pm EDT
(Reuters) – Twenty-nine countries show alarming levels of hunger and more than a billion people were hungry in 2009, according to a new report on global hunger.
World leaders are far from a 1990 goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015, according to the annual Global Hunger Index published by the International Food Policy Research Institute and other aid groups.
“The index for hunger in the world remains at a level characterized as ‘serious,'” the report states. “Most of the countries with ‘alarming’ GHI scores are in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.”
The report identifies children as particularly vulnerable.
Countries with high hunger levels must address child nutrition during the first 1,000 days after conception, including prenatal nutrition and nutrition education programs for pregnant women, said Marie Ruel, head of the group’s poverty, health and nutrition division.
“In order to improve child nutrition, programs and policies have to focus on the window of opportunity,” Ruel said. “Early childhood undernutrition perpetuates poverty from one generation to another.”
The percentage of undernourished people fell from 20 percent in 1990-92 to 16 percent in 2004-06. The United Nations believes the number of hungry people may have fallen from 1 billion in 2009 to 925 million this year.
But the index shows some regions still struggling, and the causes of hunger differ worldwide, according to the report.
“Compared to the 1990 score, globally the global hunger index has improved by 24 percent,” Ruel said. “Progress, however, varies greatly by region and by country.”
The Global Hunger Index considers three indicators — the proportion of undernourished people in a population, the proportion of children younger than five years considered underweight, and the mortality rate of children younger than five years — to compare countries’ hunger levels.
In South Asia, the low nutritional, educational and social status of women leads to a higher number of underweight children, the report states.
In sub-Saharan Africa, war and instability and high rates of HIV and AIDS are cited as leading to high child mortality.
The index was calculated for 122 countries this year using data from 2003 to 2008 and does not take into account the most recent information on global hunger, according to its authors. Data for some countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq, is insufficient and was not considered in the report.
The 10 countries with the worst levels of hunger — all “extremely alarming” or “alarming” — starting with the worst off, were Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Eritrea, Chad, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Comoros, Madagascar, and the Central African Republic.
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Jerry Norton)