Cambodians have experienced one of the largest drops in the rate of hunger in the world over the past quarter century, though the situation in the country still remains “serious,” according to a new report by three international NGOs.
The 2014 Global Hunger Index, released Monday, uses mostly U.N. figures to rank 120 countries based on the number of people who are undernourished, the number of children under 5 who are underweight, and the number of children under 5 who die, to come up with an overall score. A score of zero would indicate a complete absence of hunger in the country.
Cambodia cut its score in the index from 32.9 in 1990 to 16.1 in 2014, placing it among the top 10 countries in the index for the overall drop in hunger.
With its latest score, the report says Cambodia still suffers from “serious” hunger issues, better than “alarming” but worse than “moderate.”
It’s among children where Cambodia does worst. According to the report, 29 percent of the country’s children under 5 are underweight.
The report stresses the importance of getting not only enough food, but the right kind of food.
“One form of hunger that is often ignored or overshadowed by hunger related to energy deficits is hidden hunger, also called micronutrient deficiency,” it says.
“This shortage in essential vitamins and minerals can have long-term, irreversible health effects as well as socio-economic consequences that can erode a person’s well-being and development. By affecting people’s productivity, it can also take a toll on countries’ economies.”
The report also highlights the plight of one woman in Ratanakkiri province, Romas Phas, who lost a part of her farm to an “illegal” land grab by an unnamed rubber plantation.
“Homegrown vegetables compensate a little,” the report says. “But to make up for the shortfall, Romas also needs to buy more food, especially meat.
“In addition, yields from Romas’ rice paddies could decrease in the near future because her remaining land will not allow her to maintain the traditional fallow periods. With a reduced family income, she would not be able to maintain the level of dietary diversity she has achieved over the past few years.
“Romas’ story is just one example of how progress in tackling the underlying causes of hidden hunger is at serious risk of being reversed when the main sources of people’s livelihoods–the land and forests–face threats.”
NGOs in Cambodia have named such land grabs by mining and agribusiness companies as the root cause of some of the worst rights violations in the country, responsible for mass evictions and rampant deforestation, much of it illegal. They say some 700,000 Cambodians have been caught up in related land disputes since 2000.
Hean Vanhorn, deputy head of the Agriculture Ministry’s general department of agriculture, denied that anyone in Cambodia was having his or her land stolen.
“I have never seen people lose land; I only see people selling land,” he said.
Mr. Vanhorn said he had not seen the new report but added that Cambodia’s improving score was a sign that his ministry’s work educating farmers was working.
“If the number…is decreasing it shows that our program of teaching is a success,” he said.
According to the Global Hunger Index, the number of people who go hungry around the world has fallen 39 percent over the past 25 years, though 805 million people still do not have enough to eat.
The report was put out by Welthungerhilfe, Concern Worldwide and the International Food Policy Research Institute.
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)