The Middle East led the world in combating hunger over the past two decades, according to a report released on Monday.
The Global Hunger Index (GHI), which monitors 122 developing countries, put Kuwait at the top of the list for reducing hunger, followed by Turkey in the third place, Tunisia in fifth, with Iran and Saudi Arabia occupying the eighth and ninth places.
Nearly all the countries of the Middle East were tagged as suffering “low” rates of hunger, with Syria and Morocco cited as having “moderate” rates. Yemen was the only regional country to be listed as having an “alarming” rate. Iraq wasn’t rated while Israel and the United Arab Emirates were excluded from the study.
"The two most important criteria for success in reducing hunger are political stability and government investment in rural agricultural development," Simone Pott, a spokeswoman for Welthungerhife, which helped prepare the report, told The Media Line. "The countries that top the list have this stability and the needed resources, unlike many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa."
The report was released to correspond with World Food Day on October 16. The study was conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a Washington-based organization, and European think tanks Concern Worldwide of Ireland and Germany’s Welthungerhilfe.
The GHI is based on three factors: the general percentage of undernourished people in a given country, the ratio of undernourished children under the age of five, and the death ratio of children under five as a result of hunger. Thus, the health organizations that compiled the index measure what they call a 1,000-day "window of opportunity" from the time a baby is conceived until he or she reaches age two.
The nutrition received in this timeframe is crucial for a child’s future health, education and productivity, the organizations say. Research also shows that undernourished mothers are more likely to give birth to underweight children who are more prone to sickness and hunger in the future.
"Our system is multi-dimensional, as opposed to the one-dimensional system used by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which measures the number of calories consumed per capita in each country," she said.
GHI figures are based on 2008 data, which means they aren’t up to date, Pott conceded.
Salah Al-Bazzaz, a media spokesman for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agreed the national resources are the key criterion in combating hunger. "These countries run successful projects because of resources," he told The Media Line.
Although Middle East countries scored well in the GHI index this year, Al-Bazzaz noted that three other Muslim countries — Somalia, Sudan and Iraq — suffer from chronic hunger. A primary objective of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is halving the proportion of hungry people worldwide by 2015.
The index encompasses 122 developing and transitional countries for which data are available. Twenty-nine have levels of hunger marked as "extremely alarming" or "alarming," mostly is Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In these countries, low government effectiveness, conflict, political instability and high rates of HIV were cited as the main reasons for hunger.