What the Global Hunger Index won’t say

Hungry for meaning. On Tuesday, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) released its Global Hunger Index (GHI) report. If you’re unfamiliar with the GHI, here’s a primer. It’s an annual compendium (going on 11 years now) of heady and distressing language, the gist of which boils down to this single headline: “Global Hunger Index: Over 45 Countries on Pace for ‘Moderate’ to ‘Alarming’ Hunger Levels by 2030 UN Deadline for Zero Hunger.”

Here are two conventional words you’ll be familiar with: “political will.”

How did the GHI decide whether a country qualified for the “moderate,” “alarming,” “serious,” or “extremely alarming” hunger level in 2016? It ranked 118 countries in the developing world on these four measures (or in reportspeak, “key indicators”): undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting. Almost half of those countries, says the report, have “serious” or “alarming” hunger levels. Did you take in that last line? Hard to, after you read the previous one, yes? Characterizations like “serious” and “alarming” can quickly induce numbness, despite the fact that they are based on clinical, unflinching terms like “child wasting” and “child stunting.” Why is it that the diction of these kinds of reports seems inevitably to devolve into the bloodless?

Then there’s a second detour in the GHI report (and, for that matter, other reports just like it): a crucial detail buried way down deep that hints at what, in the race to zero hunger, is just as important as nourishment. In order to target their relief efforts, aid organizations need data. And data is really hard to gather precisely in the conflict zones like South Sudan and the Syrian Arab Republic.

What’s the one thing reports like the GHI tend to recommend with any urgency? Well, here are two conventional words you’ll be familiar with: “political will.” But that anemic phrasing doesn’t say much of anything. What the report should say is that hunger crises are rarely about food itself. Hunger crises are about large-scale political issues that demand political action—action that will incite confrontation and conflict of the congressional or diplomatic sort. What the report should say is not “political will” or even, “commitments to conflict resolution and prevention.” What is required, pure and simple, is “intervention.”

There. Is that so hard to say?

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Kate Cox is The Counter's editor. She oversees partnerships and edits investigative, feature, and senior staff reporting. Prior to joining The Counter in 2015, Kate was a freelance reporter for radio and text, focused on health policy and the American age boom. She has written for The Guardian, The Nation, Huffington Post, and others. She holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, where she produced and reported a three-part radio documentary on the nation's first emergency shelter for victims of elder abuse.