The 2017 Global Hunger Index produced many sadly predictable findings but also worrying surprises. The report’s subtitle, “The Inequalities of Hunger,” suggests a reason.
Naomi Hossain, the guest author of the report, looks at the power structures that can dictate every step of a food chain. “In food systems, power is exercised in a variety of ways and spaces . . . through concentrations of capital and market share that allow agri-food corporations to influence the price of food and food inputs as well as their supply or quality; by government offices, international organizations, or public-private partnerships that can influence, implement, or block food policies and, with their intellectual or organizational resources, can shape debates and mobilize public opinion; or through the authority of individuals over decisions about household expenditures and family meals.”
Hossain argues that the Sustainable Development Goals do not pay enough attention to these factors, which have created a world “where around 800 million people go hungry and 2 billion suffer from some form of malnutrition, more than a third of the adult population is obese and a third of all food produced is lost or wasted.”
The 2017 index was created by the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, D.C.; Concern Worldwide, an international voluntary organization founded in Ireland; and Welthungerhilfe of Germany. The report, complete with explanations of how its data are collected and analyzed, finds progress in many places. But some regions are falling behind, reversing gains. Countries are ranked on a 100-point scale, where 0 means no hunger and 100 is the worst case.
The regions with the most hunger were found in South Asia — driven by India — and in Africa, south of the Sahara.
“Given that three-quarters of South Asia’s population resides in India, the situation in that country strongly influences South Asia’s regional score. At 31.4, India’s 2017 GHI score is at the high end of the serious category,” the report said.
But even in regions where overall scores are much better, in the 7.8 to 12.8 range, there are countries in serious trouble, including Tajikistan in Central Asia, Guatemala and Haiti in the Western Hemisphere and Iraq and Yemen in the Middle East. Yemen ranked in the “alarming” category. The full index is contained in an appendix to the main report.
Where Girls Don’t Go to School and Women Can’t Read
One.org, a development advocacy group with offices worldwide, released a report on Oct. 11, the International Day of the Girl, titled, “The Toughest Places for a Girl to Get an Education.” It doesn’t end there. The report said that because girls do not go to school, nearly half a billion women worldwide still cannot read in 2017.
Of the top 10 countries where hurdles were highest for girls, only one, Afghanistan, was not in Africa. The worst of them, measured by girls’ education, were South Sudan, the Central Africa Republic and Niger. Adolescent girls in conflict zones like South Sudan and the Central African Republic — or in societies emerging from conflict — are 90 percent more likely to be out of school when compared with girls in conflict-free countries, the One.org report found. Girls in these nations have little hope of finding employment and financial independence as adults.
The statistics compiled by One.org are staggering. In South Sudan, with its perennial civil war and presence of UN peacekeepers, 73 percent of girls are not in school. In Niger, only 17 percent of girls and women aged 15 to 24 are literate. In Afghanistan, the ratio of boys to girls enrolled in primary education is 1000 to 71. In Burkina Faso, One.org found that only 1 percent of girls complete secondary school.
Burkina Faso is where Frederic Eckhard, formerly Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s spokesman at the United Nations, has devoted his retirement in France to raising funds to support girls’ education, including up to university or professional levels, making frequent trips to Burkina Faso to direct his organization there. The program, with offices in Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital, as well as in France and the United States, is called Chance for Change.
A former French colony, Burkina Faso is the second-poorest country in the world, with 80 percent of its population surviving through sustenance farming. Almost half the population lives below the poverty line. The country is ranked as the least literate nation, where the average boy completes only five years of school, while the average girl completes only four.
Where Everybody Speaks Too Much English
Back in September, a resolution slipped through the UN General Assembly bemoaning again the neglect of languages other than English in UN documents and other material, despite the clear mandate that the UN should operate in six: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish — with English and French given preference as “working” languages.
The list of grievances is long. Cultures are undermined. Advertising of job postings are too often in English, to the disadvantage of many others readers and speakers beyond the Anglophones. Manuals come out in English first as a lot of time can go by for other versions to appear. There are economic consequences. The resolution notes in particular that a “high proportion of calls for bids are published only in English, and therefore encourages the Secretariat, where appropriate, to make use of existing multilingualism policies to facilitate the participation of local vendors in the United Nations procurement bidding process. . . . “
Implicit (and sometimes explicit) in the 10-page resolution is the sense that the UN Department of Public Information is not heeding its multilingual responsibilities. Neither, the resolution implies, is the peacekeeping department.
The secretary-general is called on to act on a raft of proposed fixes. This is a particularly relevant time for the Lusophone countries — the Portuguese speakers — who have long argued that there are much more of them than most people think, and they are ignored. Secretary-General António Guterres is, of course, Portuguese, though he is also commendably multilingual. The resolution nevertheless asks him to shape up.
The campaign will be back next fall, and the resolution therefore “Requests the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly at its seventy-third session a comprehensive report on the full implementation of its resolutions on multilingualism. . . . ” There are dozens of them.
Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.