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Researchers Develop ‘World Hunger Clock’ To Measure Global Food Insecurity

Harvard researchers co-developed a projection of current and future world hunger.
Harvard researchers co-developed a projection of current and future world hunger. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Maribel Cervantes and Nelson Matthew P. Tan, Contributing Writers

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, the World Data Lab, and the Brookings Institute developed a “World Hunger Clock” to project current and future levels of hunger and food insecurity.

Homi J. Kharas, the Co-Founder and Senior Economic Advisor of World Data Lab and a co-creator of the clock, said the researchers used variables including climate, wealth, education, demographics, and urbanization to train the clock.

The team had started the project to increase access to data about a pressing global issue, Kharas said.

“[There are] 2.3 billion people in the world, worrying about whether they're going to be able to get enough to eat,” Kharas said. “If you look at the metric on severe food insecurity, which literally means people going without eating, then you're looking at numbers that are closer to 760 to 800 million people.”

According to the researchers, 2020 and 2021 will see the peak levels of world hunger in recent years due to the consequences of COVID-19.

The number of people experiencing hunger will differ across global regions. South Asia is set to “turn a corner” on food insecurity due in part to increased economic growth, while in sub-Saharan Africa, levels of food insecurity will continue to rise, according to the clock.

The World Hunger Clock uses the Food Insecurity Experience Scale, an internationally-recognized survey about access to food, to measure food insecurity.

Benjamin Müller, a data scientist at the World Data Lab and a co-creator of the clock, said that the Food Insecurity Experience Scale shows “the real picture” of the individual experience with food insecurity.

The scale “accounts also for very cultural differences. So what is a meal? What is eating less in different societies? That is a highly relevant metric on that issue,” Müller added.

Müller said he hopes that world leaders and policymakers will utilise the data gathered and analysed in their project.

“The data has regional estimates for different regions within the country. So, this could be highly relevant as well for national governments” Müller said. “If, for example, the government in Kenya knows that parts in the northeast area in Kenya, have experienced much more food insecurity than around the capital Nairobi, then they can react to this information right. They can maybe target some of their resources to these parts.”

Matthew W. Cooper, a Data Science Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Public Health and a co-creator of the clock, said that he hopes their work helps readers understand the scale of global hunger.

All three authors stressed the importance of tackling food insecurity in interviews.

“It’s such a fundamental issue of development…it influences so many things in life,” Müller said.

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