The Global Hunger Index, released Monday, shows progress against hunger in South Asia and Latin America. But the world needs to focus on childhood nutrition for this to continue.
To understand how the world has reduced the ranks of the hungry over two decades, take a look at Malaysia.
Food and nutrition programs targeting the very youngest have been added to sustained economic growth, and that combination has put the Southeast Asian country near the top of the list of the world's hunger reducers.
To zero in on why hunger remains a global challenge and an economic stumbling block in many countries - principally in sub- Saharan Africa - look no further than the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
There, a nefarious combination of conflict and deteriorating government services and infrastructure have led to a 66 percent rise in the ranks of the hungry over two decades. Three-quarters of the population now suffers from hunger.
The Global Hunger Index released Monday finds that many developing countries primarily in South Asia and Latin America have made significant progress in reducing hunger. But continued improvement in the rates of hunger - and in addressing the development problems that result from hunger - depends on a universal focus on early childhood nutrition.
"Child nutrition is one of the biggest challenges to reducing global hunger," says Marie Ruel, director of the poverty, health, and nutrition division at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington.
The 1,000 days of life "from conception to two years" go a long way in setting a child's health, education, and productivity patterns, she says, adding: "In order to improve the hunger index, countries will have to accelerate progress in child nutrition."
World Food Day coming
The Global Hunger Index, or GHI, is a country-by-country report card issued to correspond with World Food Day on Oct. 16. Two international poverty- and hunger-reduction nongovernmental organizations, Germany's Welthungerhilfe and Ireland's Concern Worldwide, team up with IFPRI to deliver the annual snapshot of global hunger.
The report comes as the world makes some progress in reducing the spike in global hunger that followed an onslaught of food shortages and food price hikes in 2008, food experts say. But they add that the world remains far from achieving the goal, set by world leaders in 2000, of cutting world hunger in half by 2015.
"The number of hungry people has actually been increasing ... on the heels of a global food price crisis and in the midst of worldwide recession," says the foreword to the report. The good news, it adds, is that the number of undernourished people globally is estimated to have fallen from the spike of more than 1 billion in 2009 to 925 million this year.
Global hunger has fallen by about a quarter since 1990, Ms. Ruel notes. And some food experts say they are seeing the focus on early childhood nutrition that is necessary to sustain that progress.
"We are serious political momentum building …