Kenya ranks among 50 hungriest countries in new global food index

A livestock owner assisted to remove a cow stuck in a drying swamp in Bandari village at the Coast. PHOTO | FILE
A livestock owner assisted to remove a cow stuck in a drying swamp in Bandari village at the Coast. PHOTO | FILE

As parts of the country grapple with famine a new report has ranked Kenya as among the worst nations in feeding its citizens.

Published last week, the Global Hunger Index (GHI), a report from Welthungerhilfe, the International Food Policy Research Institute and Concern Worldwide, shows that Kenya has serious levels of hunger, even as malnutrition is declining around the world.

With a score of 21.9 in Global Hunger Index, Kenya is ranked among the top 50 countries failing to provide their people with enough food.

Kenya is ranked marginally ahead of conflict-prone Iraq which has a score of 22 and is outpaced by Egypt with a score of 13.7 which has in recent years been faced by conflict.

The level of hunger globally is still high despite the progress made since 2000, says the report.

It shows that hunger in developing countries has dropped by 29 per cent since the year 2000, but there are still at least 800 million people worldwide who do not have enough food.

“Ending global hunger is certainly possible, but it’s up to all of us that we set the priorities right to ensure that governments, the private sector and civil society devote the time and resources necessary to meet this important goal,” said Shenggen Fan, director-general of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), who calculated the scores.

The report shows that progress in the fight against hunger was unstable and uneven, with some regions improving at a faster rate than others.
It highlights that 20 countries, including Rwanda, Cambodia, and Myanmar, had a strong reduction in their hunger levels, in part due to stabilisation following conflicts.

However, 50 countries still had alarming hunger levels, with places such as the Central African Republic having shown scarce progress.

The IFPRI’s aim is to eradicate world hunger by 2030, an initiative that is being worked on by many NGOs across the globe.

“We have the technology, knowledge and resources to achieve that vision. What is missing is both the urgency and the political will to turn commitments into action,” says Dominic MacSorley, chief executive, Concern Worldwide , an NGO that works with the IFPRI.

The GHI looks at four parameters to calculate its figures: the proportion of the population that is undernourished, the number of children suffering from wasting (low weight for their age), the number of children suffering from stunting (low height for their age) as well as the mortality rate for children under five.

The report corroborates recent reports which show many Kenyans face starvation for lack of food. Drought in various parts of the country has left hundreds of thousands of people on the brink of starvation.

Locals in affected areas have called for the government to do more as residents have been forced to move to other counties in search of food.

About 1.3 million Kenyans are facing famine following inadequate rains this year, the government has said recently. “There is a water shortage and increased risk of malnutrition.

As a result, 1.3 million people in Asal (arid and semi-arid lands) counties are in need of relief food,” Devolution and National Planning Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri told a press conference at the Treasury.

According to a government situation report, all the 23 Asal counties are adversely affected. The most affected include four in the Coast region — Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River and Taita-Taveta. Others are Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Marsabit, Makueni, Kitui and Samburu. Both Mr Kiunjuri and his Treasury counterpart Henry Rotich played down the alarm over the famine.

“There is no report of any Kenyan who has died of hunger. We would like to assure all Kenyans that the government is on top of the situation and will ensure that the necessary help reaches the most needy on time,” Mr Kiunjuri said.

The threat of famine has prompted the government to form a committee composed of officials from the National Treasury, Interior, Devolution, Health, Education, Agriculture, Environment and Water ministries.

Overall, the report says the world is getting better at addressing the issue of extreme poverty-driven hunger, which is usually understood to refer to the distress associated with lack of food.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), a United Nations agency, defines food deprivation, or undernourishment, as the consumption of fewer than about 1,800 kilocalories a day — the minimum that most people require to live a healthy and productive life.
Undernutrition goes beyond calories and signifies deficiencies in any or all of the following: energy, protein, or essential vitamins and minerals.

Undernutrition is the result of inadequate intake of food in terms of either quantity or quality, poor utilisation of nutrients due to infections or other illnesses, or a combination of these factors.

These, in turn, are caused by a range of factors including household food insecurity, inadequate maternal health or childcare practices or inadequate access to health services, safe water, and sanitation.

Malnutrition refers more broadly to both undernutrition (problems of deficiencies) and overnutrition (problems of unbalanced diets, which include consuming too many calories in relation to energy requirements, with or without low intake of micronutrient-rich foods).

In the report, “hunger” refers to the index based on the four component indicators. Taken together, the component indicators (undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting, and child mortality) reflect deficiencies in calories as well as in micronutrients. Thus, the GHI reflects both aspects of hunger.

The report calls for more action to reduce hunger levels.

“Simply put, countries must accelerate the pace at which they are reducing hunger or we will fail to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal [of ending global hunger by 2030],” said Shenggen Fan, the director general of IFPRI, which has been producing the index annually for the last 11 years.

Africa accounts for six of the worst 10 countries in the ranking this year, with three — Central African Republic, Chad and Zambia — coming in the last three places. Fifty countries have “serious” or “alarming” levels of hunger, and most of the seven countries with “alarming” scores are in sub-Saharan Africa.

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