Which rich countries are good/bad on hunger and nutrition? A new index takes aim at the donors.

June 5, 2013

     By Duncan Green     


A few weeks ago, I wrote about the new Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index of developing countries. Yesterday, IDS published a second HANCI for the donor countries. The Index assesses governments on both their promises and performance, strokes the good guys and slaps the bad, provides arguments and data for civil society and scrutinizes aid levels.

Some of the things I liked: it combines the aid agenda with what countries do closer to home (domestic action on climate change, biofuels, and farm policies – but not, as far as I can tell, action to curb land grabs); it looks at both stated policies and how much cash governments spend.

It tackles hunger and nutrition separately, because ‘Undernutrition is not only a consequence of hunger, but can also exist in the absence of hunger, and can be caused by non-food factors. Undernutrition results from both a critical lack of nutrients in people’s diets and a weakened immune system. In a vicious cycle, poor nutritional intake can make people more susceptible to infectious diseases whilst exposure to disease can lower people’s appetite and nutrient absorption. Undernutrition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life (from conception until the age of two) has lifelong and largely irreversible impacts because it impairs a child’s physical and mental development.’

So (tadaa!) here’s the index (apologies for the slightly OTT infographic). 


And yep, the UK comes top, largely due to its policy, programmes and legal indicators – spending is more patchy. This is potentially a bit tricky for IDS, as DFID funded the research, along with Irish Aid (Ireland came 5th/23), but the report tries not to gush too much, and has plenty of caveats about where these countries could do better (and acknowledges the funding up front).

Other things to note – Canada comes second because, among other things, of ‘delivering on its greenhouse gas emissions pledges’. But if my recent visit to Canada was anything to go by, it looks about to plummet down the table, as the Harper government takes a bludgeon to the aid system and reneges on climate change commitments.

The US comes in a pretty pitiful 18/23, mainly due to its relatively low spending on hunger reduction and nutrition programmes in relation to its GDP. It is also less likely than many other OECD countries to sign up to international treaties and frameworks.

The value of the index will really grow in future years, as a time series develops and allows NGOs and others to praise progress and denounce backsliders (looking at you, Ottawa). Let’s hope governments are listening.

Here’s the 3m video intro: