Despite the progress Kenya has made in reducing hunger, it is among 50 countries where levels of hunger remain serious or alarming, a new global report reveals.
Kenya’s score of 22 places it at number 72 out of a list of 118 countries. The study does not include developed countries because they have extremely low hunger levels.
Even with talk of rising investment in agriculture, Kenya continues to struggle to feed its people, especially its children. One in five Kenyan is undernourished while roughly one in four children is stunted and four per cent are wasted, shows the International Food Policy Research Institute study.
A review of Kenya’s health data by Nation Newsplex confirms that the figures concur with the numbers in the 2016 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey.
In September this year the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) issued drought alerts for 11 counties and an alarm for one. According to the authority’s early warning bulletins, Narok, Kajiado, Taita-Taveta, Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River, Kitui, Makueni, Marsabit and Garissa counties are experiencing a decline in food and livestock production as well as water supply. The food security situation in the counties is expected to get worse in the coming weeks. The drought status of Lamu was moved up from alert to alarm.
Besides the counties that the authority listed, Devolution Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri on Friday added West Pokot, Tharaka-Nithi, Samburu, Wajir, Mandera and Isiolo among the worst-hit counties.
Mr Kiunjuri said 1.3 million Kenyans in 23 counties are affected by the drought, with Kilifi being the worst-hit.
A Kenyan is three times more likely to go hungry compared with a Tunisian. Kenya’s hunger level is 22 and Tunisia’s is 6.
Globally the level of hunger remains alarmingly high, with 795 million people still facing hunger, roughly one in four children affected by stunting, and eight per cent of children affected by wasting.
The countries with the highest hunger levels are the Central African Republic, with a score of 46, and Chad with 44. A Kenyan is three times more likely to go hungry compared with a Tunisian. Kenya’s hunger level is 22 and Tunisia’s is 6. The 2016 Global Hunger Index (GHI) shows that the level of hunger in developing countries as a group has fallen by a third. But this progress has been uneven and great disparities in hunger continue to exist at the regional and national levels.
A Haitian is almost three times as likely to be undernourished as a Kenyan but the two countries have the same proportion of stunted children. Haiti has the highest share of its population undernourished on the list.
The proportion of undernourishment in the countries with the best record — Argentina and Turkey — is less than one per cent while the level of stunting in each of the two countries is less than 10 per cent.
The GHI ranks countries on a 100-point scale. Zero is the best score (no hunger), and 100 is the worst, although neither of these extremes is reached in practice.
Across regions and countries, GHI scores differ greatly. Regionally, the highest hunger levels are found in Africa south of the Sahara and South Asia. Although GHI scores for these two regions have declined over time, the current levels are still on the upper end of the serious category and closer to the alarming category than to the moderate.
“Massive disruptions to food systems caused by climate-related disasters and the destruction and displacement of armed conflict take a severe toll, but so too do the poverty and hunger of every day, persisting as a way of life generation after generation, beyond the world’s interest or attention,” said Dr Till Wahnbaeck, chief executive officer of the aid organisation Welthungerhilfe, in the report’s forward.
Kenya’s index, which is in the serious category, is about eight points less than the sub-Saharan Africa average score of 30, a region whose hunger level is three times higher than that in Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s index is double that of North Africa’s score of 12 even though the latter is situated in the Sahara desert. The Near East region’s index is the same as North Africa’s and slightly better than the East and Southeast Asia score of 13.
Most of the countries with alarming GHI scores are in sub-Saharan Africa. The IFPRI study finds that 34 (68 per cent) out of the 50 worst-performing countries are in Africa.
The current rate of reducing hunger will leave South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa with GHI scores near the divide between moderate and serious hunger — falling far short of the goal to reach Zero Hunger by 2030.
To reflect the multidimensional nature of hunger, the GHI combines four indicators into one index, including undernourishment, which refers to the proportion of undernourished people in a population.
Other indicators are child wasting, which is the share of children under the age of five who suffer from wasting (low weight for their height, reflecting acute under-nutrition), and child stunting, which is the fraction of children under the age of five who are too short for their age, reflecting chronic under-nutrition The final component is the under-five death rate.
An examination of national malnutrition statistics by Newsplex reveals that efforts to reduce malnutrition (stunting and wasting) in Kenya have had mixed results since 2000, when 35 per cent, or one in three children, were stunted. The figure dropped to 28 per cent in 2003 but went up to 30 per cent in 2008.
Malnutrition can lead to irreversible brain and body damage if it is not treated before the age of two and undernourished children are more prone to diseases.
Malnourished (stunted and underweight) children go on to earn 20 per cent less in adulthood, according to a 2008 Lancet review of cohort studies from Brazil, Guatemala, India, the Philippines and South Africa.
A cohort study follows participants through a certain period of their lives, which in this particular study was from childhood to adulthood.
Overall, developing countries has made substantial progress in reducing hunger since 2000. No countries have been in the “extremely alarming” category for a second year in a row. Twenty-two countries have reduced their GHI scores by half or more since 2000 and another 70 countries have reduced their scores by 25-49.9 per cent since 2000. During this period Kenya’s score has dipped by 42 per cent.
The three countries in the world that achieved the biggest percentage reductions in hunger in the serious and alarming categories are Myanmar, Rwanda, and Cambodia, with 2016 GHI scores for each country down by just over 50 per cent compared with the 2000 scores.
Each of these countries has experienced civil war and political instability in recent decades, and the improvements in part may reflect increased stability.
The countries with the lowest percentage reductions in hunger are the Central African Republic and Chad.
But to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 of getting to zero hunger while leaving no one behind, it is essential to identify the regions, countries, and populations that are most vulnerable to hunger and undernutrition so progress can be accelerated there.
Further, although Africa south of the Sahara has achieved the largest absolute improvement since 2000 and South Asia has also seen a sizable reduction, the decline in hunger must accelerate in these regions if the world is to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030.
Since 2015, GHI scores were calculated using a new and improved formula. The revision replaces child underweight, previously the only indicator of child undernutrition, with two indicators of child undernutrition — child wasting and child stunting.
As the drought situation in Kenya deteriorated, it prompted the NDMA to disburse Sh53 million from the Drought Contingency Fund (DCF) at the beginning of August.
The authority disbursed funds from the Sh1.1 billion kitty that is supported by the European Union, as follows:
• Kilifi County - Sh11.5m to support security, water and livestock sectors, including livestock off-take for slaughter in Kayafungo, Bamba, Mariakani.
• Kwale County - Sh6.5m for support to livestock, health and nutrition, security and water sectors.
• Tana River County - Sh3.3m to support livestock, health and nutrition, security, education and water sectors.
• Taita-Taveta County - Sh7.7m to support livestock, health and nutrition, security and water sectors.
• Kitui County - Sh7.8m to support livestock, health and nutrition, and water sectors.
• Makueni County - Sh5.1m to support livestock, health and nutrition and water sectors.
Kiunjuri said that in August the Treasury released Sh254 million for emergency food relief.