The study reveals that hunger is as much the result of poor or weak governance precipitating economic downturn as that of episodic natural or manmade events causing individual and community crises. Effective governance provides an enabling environment which facilitates effective institutional capacity, and the policies and legislative measures needed to pave the way so that individuals, households and communities acquire the sustained ability to reduce hunger. Action by a government to genuinely engage in anti-hunger action fuels the shared views and determination of its citizens to enhance the quality of their lives. This can be accomplished by leveraging physical, social and intellectual resources towards nation building. Humanitarian organisations must now build on their experience and expertise to forge a coalition with their national and international partners in order to strengthen the capacity of national systems for greater accountability to guarantee hunger solutions for their citizens.

Establishing the Link: Hunger, Economic Ability and Governance

There has been inadequate progress over the past several decades towards reducing both the size and the proportion of the global population facing hunger despite the best intentions and efforts of a host of individuals,national and international institutions. A key question is raised as to whether hunger and continued chronic food insecurity can be singularly attributed to episodic natural and manmade events; and/or factors involving governance and the human development capacity of nations.
This study examines the relationship between hunger and the economic and governance capacity of a nation. The study considered various data sets to establish the links between hunger and the ability[1] and readiness[2] of nations to reduce hunger. After careful consideration of various candidate data sources[3]and initial statistical tests, the author decided to use the following three data sets in the final analysis. These are the Global Hunger Index developed by IFPRI; the Human Development Index (HDI) provided annually by UNDP; and six World Governance Indicators provided annually by the World Bank Institute: voice and accountability; political stability and absence of violence/terrorism; government effectiveness; regulatory quality (rule of law);and control of corruption. Each of the data sources is publicly available and therefore independently verifiable and subject to international scrutiny; each has been developed and refined over the past many years and will be available for future updates and analysis.

The Global Hunger Index (GHI), a tool for regularly tracking the state of global hunger and malnutrition, is developed by IFPRI. Given that the Millennium Development Goals are benchmarked against the year 1990, the GHI also tracks changes that have occurred since then. The Human Development Index (HDI) has been used since 1990 “to shift the focus of development economics from national income accounting troposphere policies.” The founder of HDI, Mahbub ul Haq,[4] states: “this development paradigm is about more than the rise or fall of national incomes.It is about creating an environment in which people can develop to their full potentials and lead productive, creative lives in accord with their needs and interests. People are the real wealth of nations. Development is therefore about expanding the choices people make to lead lives that they value. And it is about much more than economic growth, which is only a means – although a very important one – of expanding people’s choices.”

The World Governance Indicators, developed and managed by the World Bank Institute, are a compilation of information and perceptions gathered from a diverse group of respondents and collected through large variety of surveys and other cross-country assessments. Some of these instruments capture the views of firms, individuals, and public officials in the countries being assessed. Others reflect the carefully considered views bongos and aid donors with considerable experience in the countries in question. Still others are based on the assessments of commercial risk-rating agencies.

The WBI acknowledges that for many dimensions of governance, relevant and independent data is difficult to obtain. Consider the challenge of objectively measuring corruption. By definition, corruption leaves no paper trail. Even where objective measures are available, they provide only imperfect proxies for real conditions. For this study, the author derived a composite index of governance indicators using the value of each of the six governance indicators provided by the WBI. The composite governance index provides the single measure of governance used in this study.

The Measurement: Ability,Readiness and Hunger

Specifying the Data

As indicated above, three variables have been selected to further our understanding about hunger reduction strategies and accountability. These are hunger, economic capacity and governance as detailed below:

    Global Hunger Index (GHI): The GHI is provided by IFPRI, Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe.[5]The GHI was constructed by combining data on the under-five mortality rate, the prevalence of underweight children and the proportion of undernourished people with respect to the total population.

  1. Ability: expressed by UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI); measures country’s average achievements in three basic aspects of human development:longevity, knowledge, and a decent standard of living. Longevity is measured by life expectancy at birth; knowledge is measured by a combination of the adult literacy rate and the aggregate combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrolment ratio; and standard of living is measured by per capita GDP. Hence, economic ability refers to the capacity for social and economic transformation towards a marked improvement in living conditions for individuals, communities and nations as a whole. It is not a measure of country’s underlying natural resource endowment. The HDI is reported in the 2007/2008 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)[6]and can take any value between 0 and 1. It is an objective reflection of the position of a country’s development at a given time. For countries where HDI data is missing from the 2007/2008 HDI report (DPR Korea, Somalia, and Iraq), data from previous years was used instead.
  2. Readiness: expresses governance as defined and developed by the World Bank Institute. The World Governance Indicator (WGI) consists of six indicators measuring broad categories of governance.[7]
  1. Voice and Accountability: extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government; includes freedom of expression; of association; and the existence and degree of a free media.
  2. Political Stability and Absence of Violence/Terrorism: likelihood that the government will be destabilised by unconstitutional or violent means, including terrorism.
  3. Government Effectiveness: quality of public services and capacity of civil services; the independence of the civil service from political pressures; and the quality of policy formulation.
  4. Regulatory Quality: ability of the government to provide sound policies and regulations,which enable and promote private sector development.
  5. Rule of Law: extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society, including the quality of contract enforcement and property rights, the police and the courts, and the likelihood of crime and violence.
  6. Control of Corruption: extent to which public power is exercised for private gain,including both petty and grand forms of corruption and “capture” of the state by elites and private interests.

For the analysis in this study, a scatter chart in the form of a 2×2 matrix has been constructed establishing the relationship between ability,readiness[8] and incidence of hunger. The vertical axis plots ability (low,high) and the horizontal axis plots readiness (low, high). The scatter chart consists of four quadrants grouping countries that are able but not ready, able and ready,unable and not ready, or unable but ready to develop and implement their ownanti-hunger strategies (see Table 1 below). The scatter chart is a dynamic tool,illustrating a continuum between and within the quadrants. The key questions the matrix seeks to answer are:

  • What is the relationship between governance and hunger in a country?
  • What is the relationship between human development and hunger in a country?
  • What is the impact of governance and human development collectively on the status of hunger in a country?

A) Able but not ready­­ (Q1) – characterised by a combination of sufficient and/or potential resource capacity and relatively weak governance. The typology in this category is represented by sound economic indicators and a productive, growing economy whose gains can be leveraged for social transformation and development,but where insufficient governance capacity poses an obstacle to the distributive justice of economic and social benefits to the population. This situation calls for concerted regional and international advocacy efforts to ensure that nations falling under this typology invest in governance capacity for hunger reduction, for example, by providing capacity for anti-hunger legislation and policies to protect citizens from the degradation of hunger and investing in safety net programmes and economic growth opportunities.

B) Able and ready (Q2) – depicts a nation that is capable of undertaking concerted actions against hunger and poverty through participatory processes by engaging citizens and, therefore, further enhancing its enabling environment. It mischaracterized by a high position on the HDI, high WGI and a very low GHI. The typology provides a model for others to emulate wherein development partners actively engage in supporting the presence of sustained national capacity to manage anti-hunger strategies and/or prepare the necessary conditions to hand-over anti-hunger programmes.

C) Unable and not ready (Q3) – a typology of nation where economic transformation is not assured and functioning and effective governance systems are yet to be established and solidified. Typically, the Global Hunger Index is highest in this quadrant. These cases may be experiencing armed conflict, pervasive migration patterns, low health and education indicators, poor social service delivery, a generally poor state of governance with limited government control over the entirety of the national territory and insufficient or unequal resource allocation and distribution. This does not imply a lack of natural resource endowment; the country may in fact be rich in natural resources. There are simply no conditions in place to facilitate the economic and governance frameworks necessary to meet the food security needs of the population and to transform national resources into economic and social gains. This typology calls for concerted regional and international action for peacemaking where necessary and feasible; conflict resolution and mitigation measures where needed; and immediate food relief leading into longer-term reconstruction and development strategies through effective institutions.

D) Unable but ready (Q4) an emerging economy whose governance and institutional arrangements are well placed for hunger reduction and are in take-off stage for economic growth; however, the economic transformations required for effective policy implementation is yet to take place. Typically this category is characterised by low HDI, improving WGI and high GHI. This typology provides an opportunity for engaging in genuine partnerships to develop capacity for hunger reduction measures and enhanced international investment and to support the economic transformation required to reduce hunger.

Statistical Tests: Hunger,Ability and Readiness

A cross-sectional regression test[9]for 177 countries was conducted using the incidence of hunger as a dependent variable and ability and readiness as independent Variables. The data obtained from the three sources discussed above were normalised as values between 0 and 1. HDI data was already presented as a value between 0 and 1 and the WGI data was also normalised so as to fall between 0and 1.
The statistical test shows that the Global Hunger Index significantly correlates with both economic ability and the six World Governance Indicators (see Table 1). The Human Development Index stands out as the most significant variable influencing the Global Hunger Index. An elasticity test result shows that a 10% increase in the Human Development Index would reduce the Global Hunger Index by approximately 26.4% (see Table 1).Thus, improvements in health services, education and income levels of a nation are key determinants to reducing hunger and poverty. Countries with a low Global Hunger Index also exhibit considerable associations with a high Human Development Index and high performance of governance indictors.

Furthermore, the statistical analysis shows that, among governance indicators, ‘control of corruption’ and ‘political stability and absence of violence’ significantly correlate with hunger. An elasticity test result shows that a 10% lapse in the control of corruption will exacerbate hunger by approximately 8.8%. A 10% improvement in political stability and absence of violence[10]would decrease the Global Hunger Index by approximately 5%. Although they are not as statistically significant,[11]government effectiveness, voice and accountability, regulatory quality and rule of law are also important measures (with a strong correlation coefficient weight) influencing the manifestation of hunger.

The Scatter Chart: Hunger and Country Categories

In this section the author attempts to allocate countries into one of the four scatter chart quadrants discussed above (see Figure 2). While the analysis covers 177 countries, only84 are depicted on the scatter chart, with a particular focus on the countries where hunger represents a formidable challenge. The allocation of countries into one of the quadrants is defined using the following thresholds:

  • Quadrant I: Able but not Ready:
  • HDI > 0.6 and WGI < 0.4 and Incidence of Hunger ≥ 10%;
  • Quadrant II: Able and Ready: there are two sub-groups:
    • sub-group I, HDI > 0.6; Incidence of Hunger ≤ 6.7%; and WGI > 0.3;
    • sub-group II, HDI ≥ 0.6; WGI ≥ 0.4; and Incidence of Hunger ≥ 10%
  • Quadrant III: Unable and Not Ready:
    • HDI < 0.6; WGI ≤ 0.37; and Incidence of Hunger > 15%;
  • Quadrant IV: Unable but Ready:
    • HDI ≥ 0.37 and HDI <0.6; and WGI > 0.3 and WGI ≤ 0.52; Incidence of Hunger >10%

    Based on the above, we can now allocate countries into one of the four quadrants on the scatter chart and discuss implications and recommendations for corresponding action.

    Country Category: Q1, Able but Not Ready

    These countries typically rank higher than the established median on the HDI at 0.6 but exhibit a relatively low World Governance Indicator (< 0.4). They are further charactetised by a medium/high Global Hunger Index, falling between 10% and26%. Table 2 depicts the varying degrees of each indicator (HDI, WGI and GHI).Included in this list are OPT, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Honduras, Bolivia, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, Laos and Tajikistan.
    Anti-hunger strategies for these countries require robust internal institutional structures and a concerted effort to develop, maintain and implement policy/legislative frameworks in order to systematically address the particular hunger challenges they face. In order to strengthen institutions and accountability structures that address low performance with respect to governance, these countries should put in place productive and social safety nets relevant to the specific conditions in the country. Actions should focus on heightened advocacy combined with technical assistance so as to strengthen the capacity of national institutions which address hunger and invest in the development of anti-hunger structures, strategies, legislation and targeted disaster management and safety net programmes.

    Country Category: Q2, Able and Ready

    Countries in this category are characterised by a low Global Hunger Index ranking (some countries with less than ten per cent and others with greater than ten per cent GHI), high HDI (> 0.6) and a World Governance Indicator ranking above 0.4(see Table 3). Thus, countries in this category represent a model for others,demonstrating that it is feasible to significantly diminish the incidence of hunger. Humanitarian action may consider designing and implementing hand-over strategies for these countries by ensuring effective anti-hunger institutions,legislation and policies are deeply rooted in the national system along with guaranteed food security for the population. India stands out a country with23% GHI but very strong HDI and emerging composite index of WGI.

    Country Category: Q3, Unable and Not Ready

    Countries in this category are characterised by a very high ranking on the Global Hunger Index (in excess of 15%), a relatively low ranking on the Human Development Index (<0.3), and a very low ranking on the World Governance Index (< 0.3) as shown in Table 4. These countries are typified by political instability and violence, low national capacity to control corruption and very poor government effectiveness. Some of them, such as Somalia, Afghanistan and the DRC, are mired in civil conflict while others are at a crossroads in the peacemaking stage.
    Appropriate action for countries falling into this quadrant includes direct humanitarian investment to guarantee the protection of citizens from the degradation of hunger; and/or engaging with national systems in incremental capacity development activities, particularly to ensure the creation of anti-hunger institutions and anti-hunger policies and programmes. In addition,these countries require a sustained commitment to create a space wherein lasting hunger solutions can be found through transitional, post-conflict and recovery programmes. These programmes should build trust and encourage local investment in social safety nets, and, at the macro-level, the forging and nurturing of viable partnerships with promising government counterparts,community leaders and civil society.

    Country Category: Q4, Unable but Ready

    This category represents emerging/transitional economies whose global hunger index remains high—human development index (>0.3) and WGI (>0.3) as shown in Table 5.Chronic hunger is generally widespread among the population, and often articulating hunger reduction strategies can run counter to national priorities for economic growth. Countries in this category include Ghana, Lesotho, Benin, Senegal, Timor Leste, Angola, Ethiopia and Liberia.
    For countries in this quadrant, it is critical to invest in anti-hunger action including access to food for the most vulnerable and targeted technical assistance for national capacity development in key areas anti-hunger institutions and anti-hunger policies and legislation.

    Implications for Humanitarian Action

    The study reveals that hunger is as much the result of poor or weak governance that precipitates economic downturn as that of episodic natural or manmade events causing individual and community crises.The statistical test results show that a 10% increase in the Human Development Index (improvements in health, education, and per capita income) will reduce the Global Hunger Index by about 26.4%. Similarly, a 10% tightening up in the control of corruption will improve the hunger index by 8.8%. Also, a 10%improvement in political stability and an absence of violence will decrease the Global Hunger Index by about 5%.
    As this study reveals, both ability and readiness must co-exist at a comparably high level in order to effectively understandably reduce hunger. As a result, where governance is poor, a high Human Development Index alone may be insufficient to bring hunger under control. Similarly, good governance alone, without strong social and economic performance, cannot guarantee a tangible reduction in hunger levels.
    Humanitarian organisations must now build on their experience and expertise to forge a coalition with their development partners in order to strengthen the capacity of national systems for greater accountability and the ability to guarantee hunger solutions for their citizens— a goal that is inherently transformational and all-inclusive. Supporting improvements in economic capacity and governance will reinforce the accountability structures between citizen and State — a sustainable approach to reducing hunger. National systems should be assisted to assume ownership, to innovate and to create hunger solutions for at-risk citizens.
    Furthermore, the findings underline the importance of investing in effective and accountable institutions while fostering strong social and economic performance. International action for hunger reduction should be conceived within a national development agenda and include robust governance structures. It is only by working within national agendas that hunger reduction strategies can be made to work in the interest of those who have suffered the most from hunger over extended periods. Therefore, the contemporary humanitarian and recovery assistance strategies that have until now been singularly focused on assisting individuals affected by hunger should be recast with concerted international action to strengthen the capacities of individuals,communities and governments to protect themselves and their citizens from hunger.

    Assigning countries along the four quadrants of the scatter chart offers a clear engagement strategy for assisting countries to develop the necessary institutional and policy capacity development to sustainable hunger.


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    [1]Ability refers to a country’s use of its economic, human and institutional resources for anti-hunger programmes and actions.

    [2]Readiness refers to a political and institutional structure which allows for the implementation of pro-poor, anti-hunger policies and programmes.

    [3] More than 15 data sources were reviewed before we determined appropriateness of the dataset use din this study.


    [5]See Global Hunger Index. The Challenge of Hunger 2008.Welthungerhilfe, IFPRI, Concern Worldwide. The publication provides data for 121 countries.

    [6] See UNDP 2007/2008 Human Development Report.

    [7]Governance is defined as “the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised, including the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies; and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them.” See

    [8]The terms ability and readiness are adapted from the”able and willing” concept used by Ralph Jacobson, Keith Setterholm, JohnVollum, Figure 4 – 1, page 87. Leading for a change: how to master the five challenges faced by every leader, Published by Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000

    [9]The statistical test ascertains correlation among ability, readiness and hunger and helps to avoid speculative conjecture.

    [10] While the relationship between hunger and political stability and absence of violence is commonplace,statistical tests are carried out in order to avoid conjecture.

    [11] This maybe due to a high degree of covariance among some WGI variables, for example,control of corruption is strongly correlated with governance effectiveness,regulatory quality and rule of law. Rule of law highly correlates with government effectiveness and regulatory quality, and regulatory quality correlates strongly with governance effectiveness. We suspect that the data used for each variable might contain similar measurements, explaining a high level of covariance.

    The author is working for the UN World Food. An extended manuscript of this paper was initially published as an internal WFP occasional paper. The views expressed herein are those of the author, and do not in any way imply those of WFP.

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