India and Pakistan, two other South Asian nations, lagged behind Bangladesh in addressing hunger in the latest index as they ranked at 107th and 99th spots respectively. They have been catagorised as countries with serious hunger (score 20 to 34.9).

Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern Worldwide, said the toxic cocktail of conflict, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic had already left millions exposed to food price shocks and vulnerable to further crises.

Now the war in Ukraine -- with its knock-on effects on global supplies and prices for food, fertilizer, and fuel -- is turning the crisis into a catastrophe, he added.  

The report identified the Russia-Ukraine war as a major catalyst behind the decreasing capability of various countries to satisfy hunger. It said some 50 nations, including Bangladesh, were dependent on Russia and Ukraine for the bulk of wheat imports and have now been scrambling to find alternative suppliers. 

One-third of children in Bangladesh are suffering from undernourishment, with one in every six children stunted and wasted in comparison to their age

The failure to ensure timely import of wheat from the two warring nations has pushed up the prices of rice and flour and reduced the poor’s purchasing power.  

This situation came on top of persistent food inflation, which began in the second half of 2020. In March 2022, global food prices jumped to their highest levels ever recorded. Compared with the previous year, prices of cereals were up 37 per cent; cooking oils 56 per cent; and meat 20 per cent. 

According to the report, fertilizer prices have been skyrocketing owing to high demand and the rising cost of natural gas. The disruption of fertilizer shipments from Russia, a leading fertilizer exporter, is undermining food production everywhere and could lead to lower global crop yields next year. 

Levels of hunger are calculated based on a formula that combines four indicators – undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality. These together capture the multidimensional nature of hunger at any level - global, regional, or national.

According to that index, one-third of children in Bangladesh are suffering from undernourishment, with one in every six children stunted and wasted in comparison to their age.  In addition, one in three children dies within five years after taking birth. 

Bangladesh has consistently improved in all these areas, but the pace is relatively lower than other countries. All these issues dragged down the overall position of Bangladesh in the index.  Sri Lanka and Myanmar fared better than Bangladesh among the South Asian nations with 64th and 71st positions respectively in the index. 

According to the index, hunger levels have reached an 'alarming level’ (score 35 to 49.9) in at least nine countries – Central African Republic, Chad, People's Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Yemen, Burundi, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria. Besides, another 35 countries have 'serious hunger' (score 20 to 34.9) situations.

The index also said South Asia currently has the worst hunger situation in the world, followed by the African nations of the Sahara region. 

West Asia and North Africa are suffering from moderate hunger, but there are worrying signs of a reversal in progress against hunger. Hunger is considered low in Latin America and the Caribbean, East and Southeast Asia, Europe and Central Asia.

The top 17 countries with scores below 5 are Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chile, China, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey and Uruguay. However, war-torn Yemen is at the very bottom of the index as it  is ranked 121 with a score of 45.1. 

Khan Ahmed Sayeed Murshid, former director general of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), said, “As the food crisis is going on around the world, we have to emphasise on the production of our staple foods. Besides, We have to consider long-term planning and strengthening relations with the major suppliers in case of imports from the world market.”