The developing world is becoming more vulnerable to a variety of shocks and stressors, from extreme weather events, climate change and environmental degradation to population pressures, macroeconomic crises, conflict, and poor governance.
The traditional approach to dealing with shocks is temporary infusions of aid, with separate development efforts focused on mitigating stresses and making people less vulnerable in the longer run.
Yet the persistent vulnerability of regions - such as the Sahel and the Horn of Africa - suggests the traditional separation of relief and development efforts is not working.
In recognition of this situation, the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI), released for the eighth year by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide, calls for greater resilience-building efforts to boost food and nutrition security.
The Index identifies hunger levels and hot spots across 120 developing countries and countries in transition. It scores countries based on three equally weighted indicators: (1) the proportion of people who are undernourished, (2) the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and (3) the mortality rate of children under five.
The 2013 Index indicates that global hunger is decreasing; the 2013 world GHI score has fallen by 34 percent from the 1990 GHI score. Yet world hunger still remains "serious," with 19 countries suffering from levels of hunger that are either "alarming" or "extremely alarming."
South Asia has the highest regional GHI score, followed by Africa south of the Sahara while Burundi, Eritrea and Comoros have the highest levels of hunger.
Most countries where the hunger situation is already "alarming" or "extremely alarming" are vulnerable to the negative effects of extreme weather events, climate change, population pressure, conflicts and economic crises. Traditional coping mechanisms as well as the capacity of governments are in many cases hugely challenged.
Resilience is defined as the capacity not only to absorb milder shocks, but also to learn from and adapt to larger ones, and to fundamentally transform economic, social, and ecological structures in response to the most severe ones. Resilience-building should therefore encompass prevention, mitigation and the promotion of development paths that reduce exposure to shocks in the longer term.
"2.6 billion people have to live on less than two dollars a day. For them a sick family member, a single drought or the job loss of someone working abroad is a major crisis.
As a consequence a child can no longer afford to go to school, the family diet is reduced to often one meal a day or livestock needs to be sold. These people have simply no coping mechanisms left to react to a crisis," said Welthungerhilfe's Chairlady Bärbel Dieckmann.
The 2013 Global Hunger Index calls for the silos between the relief and development communities to be broken down, and for a focus on approaches and outcomes that reflect an increased ability to resist, absorb, and transform in response to shocks.
"Adopting a resilience lens is challenging. We need to build consensus on what it means and on that basis adopt programs and policies that bridge the relief and development sectors," said IFPRI research fellow Derek Headey.
Collaboration requires new and better efforts to monitor and evaluate people's existing vulnerabilities and the impacts of resilience-building activities. Concern CEO Dominic MacSorley explained, "We must focus on those living in extreme poverty, learn the lessons of the past and be clear what measures are needed to enable the very poorest to become more resilient in the longer term."
He continued, "Concern's work in Kenya, Ethiopia, Niger and Chad is demonstrating how a resilience approach can deliver significant and sustainable change at community level. Turning this evidence into policy change is the next important step."
Looking to the future, the report suggests developing high-frequency surveillance systems for the most vulnerable regions, focusing on community as well as individual and household resilience.
In addition, resilience-building objectives should be incorporated into national and regional development strategies as something distinct from conventional growth, poverty, or development objectives. Pursuing this will improve food and nutrition security for the world's most vulnerable.