How does HANCI add value to existing advocacy campaigns and accountability mechanisms?

Existing hunger indices compare countries‘ performance largely based on hunger and undernutrition outcomes. For example the Global Hunger Index assesses countries based on three indicators: the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and the child mortality rate.

The Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index, as the name suggests, is an attempt to assess political commitment, but also to relate this to critical contextual factors. For developing countries this includes issues such as:

  • The extent of the hunger and undernutrition problem within a developing country.
  • That country’s ability to act on the problem – both in terms of its wealth and administrative capacity.

Similarly the HANCI Donor Index assesses country performance in the light of their ability to contribute to reducing hunger and undernutrition in the developing world. The index hence puts the absolute size of aid volumes and performance on policy pledges within context: countries having bigger shoulders need to carry a heavier burden.

How do we define hunger and nutrition?

When we talk about nutrition in HANCI we are talking specifically about undernutrition. Hunger and undernutrition are related but are not the same thing.

Hunger is the result of an empty stomach, and caused by people having insufficient income or social and economic entitlements to access food. Hunger makes people more susceptible to disease and thus leads to increased illness and death. Hunger strongly undermines development. To ‘cope’ with hunger families can be forced to sell vital assets, such as farming tools, often perpetuating their vulnerability to hunger. Hunger can mean that children (particularly girls) are taken out of school so they can work, it causes communities to migrate away from their homes and, at worst, leads to permanent destitution, prostitution, and child trafficking. Hunger also contributes to the onset of armed conflict (Foresight report, 2011, p.3).

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 effects because it impairs a child’s physical and mental development. Undernutrition increases the risk of chronic diseases and premature death in adulthood, and negatively affects people’s lifelong ability to learn, be economically productive, earn income and sustain their livelihoods, and thus perpetuates poverty. In short, undernutrition undermines all aspects of development.

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.

How is HANCI constructed?

HANCI for developing countries compares and ranks the performance of 45 countries based on 22 indicators of political commitment. The indicators are split between indicators of commitment to hunger reduction (10 indicators) and indicators relating to commitment to addressing undernutrition (12 indicators). In both sets they are grouped under three themes:

  • Legal frameworks (for example the level of constitutional protection of the right to food)
  • Policies and programmes (for example the extent to which nutrition features in national development policies/strategies)
  • Public expenditures (for example the percentage of government budgets spent on agriculture)

This diagram shows the structure of the Index.

HANCI structure diagram

For the HANCI donor commitment index 23 OECD member countries are compared based on 14 indicators again split between indicators of commitment to hunger reduction (9 indicators) and indicators relating to commitment to addressing undernutrition (5 indicators). These are grouped under 2 themes:

  • Policies, programmes and legal
  • Public expenditures


In both indices we separately measured commitment to reduce hunger and commitment to reduce undernutrition. This is because, in developing countries for instance, support for women’s care practices and measures to improve sanitation are critical for improving nutrition, though less clearly related to hunger. Conversely, emergency food aid, or agricultural development programmes from donors can help to reduce hunger by increasing food availability, but are often not aimed at achieving a balanced diet.

By separately analysing nutrition commitment and hunger reduction commitment we identify how governments prioritise action on hunger and/or undernutrition.

We also show how diverse political commitment levels relate to levels of hunger and undernutrition.

To find out more you can use our tools to explore the data.  Technical notes and details on the methodology are available in the full HANCI 2012 report (PDF 3 MB).

What indicators are used to calculate HANCI?

For developing countries we include indicators that allow the index to assess ‘curative’ action (efforts that seek to address immediate needs) as well as ‘preventive’ action (efforts to avert hunger and undernutrition, to reduce food insecurity and to prevent people from becoming malnourished). Consequently, some of our proxy indicators measure interventions that are not primarily instituted to combat hunger or undernutrition (e.g. civil registration of births or investments in public health). Nevertheless, governments recognise that these efforts do contribute to hunger reduction and improved nutrition statuses in the short, medium and long term, and are therefore included in the index.

For the donor commitment index the indicators broadly assesses whether countries:

  • Commit to and disburse financial assistance, do so enduringly, and keeping in mind their capacity to give support and the estimated funds needed to tackle the problems.
  • Establish domestic policy action that is coherent with anti hunger and undernutrition objectives of its foreign aid policy (especially in relation to climate change and agricultural sector protection).
  • Engage in international agreements and treaties that help address hunger and undernutrition.

The full list of indicators and links to the main data sources for the developing country index are provided in this document taken from the annexes of the full HANCI report. A full explanation of indicator selection and the methodology for constructing the index can also be found in the full HANCI 2012 report (PDF 3 MB). For the donor commitment index a full list and discussion of the indicators used is available in this note on indicators.

How were the countries included in HANCI selected?

The 45 countries included in the HANCI developing country index do not represent all the countries with substantial populations suffering from hunger and undernutrition. Several countries were excluded from the HANCI because data was unavailable for selected indicators.

The selection criteria for HANCI developing countries were:

  • Countries being part of the ‘high burden’ countries for undernutrition identified in the Lancet Series 2008 and/or
  • Countries being focus countries of the Scaling Up Nutrition movement and/or
  • Countries having been included in HRCI 2011 and/or
  • Countries in which partners such as the ONE Campaign and Save the Children operate (in order to optimise use of HANCI in hunger and nutrition advocacy).

The 23 donor countries in the donor commitment index correspond to OECD-Development Assistance Committee members, for which aid data is made publicly available.

How does HANCI connect current (2012) commitment levels with past/future hunger and undernutrition reductions in developing countries?

This is the first attempt at measuring levels of political commitment for hunger and undernutrition reduction in developing countries. Commitment data refers to the year 2012 although data on hunger and undernutrition outcomes typically dates back several years. Accordingly, we need to be careful about asserting a causal relationship between commitment levels in 2012 and past hunger and undernutrition outcomes.

There is, however, substantial international agreement on the likely positive effects of action on the 22 selected indicators used in HANCI therefore we surmise that greater commitment will accelerate hunger and undernutrition reduction in the future.

We hypothesise that current commitments levels will have lagged effects on future hunger and undernutrition outcomes. This remains to be determined empirically, and will require multiple years of measuring political commitment.

In the meantime, new and current data on political commitment can inspire greater debate about the need to act on hunger and undernutrition. Moreover such data allows people to hold their governments to account on what they are doing or failing to do on this key development issue.

We also plan to explore retrospective commitment levels in the next phase of work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *