Classifying Acute Food Insecurity Using the Household Hunger Scale: Evidence from Three Countries

The currently accepted means of categorizing household food insecurity and identifying famine or famine risk is the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) tool. IPC has been instituted in one form or another in nearly forty countries, including its adaptation as Cadre Harmonisé in West Africa. While it has helped the humanitarian community make great strides in assessing food security crises and in allocating resources impartially, recent IPC analyses in countries at risk of famine have had difficulty in particular areas. One of these is the classification of households in Phase 5 (i.e., households in catastrophe or “famine” conditions, but not in sufficient numbers to make an area determination of famine). How such households are characterized or identified is frequently problematic. Currently, while corroborating indicators help classify households in the lower phases of IPC analysis, the only means of identifying households in Phase 5 (differentiating them from Phase 4, or “emergency”) in the IPC Acute Food Insecurity (AFI) Reference Table, is the Household Hunger Scale (HHS). This has led to the inadvertent politicization of the use of HHS and the frequent questioning of its validity (Maxwell et al. 2018).
HHS was not suggested for Phase 5 classification as a stand-alone indicator, nor was there any pre-conceived assumption that HHS was all that was needed to differentiate between Phases 4 and 5. Instead, a study of how the food consumption outcome indicators included in the AFI Reference Table align with one another and with the various phase descriptions concluded that HHS was the “anchor” indicator for other household food consumption indicators used in IPC analysis (Vaitla et al. 2015). HHS appeared to be relatively more sensitive in more severe contexts than were the other indicators included to represent the outcome of food consumption—and thus the most likely of being able to distinguish P4 and P5 households. It should be noted that the indicator has never been field tested to be able to do this—that was the purpose of this study
The HHS has not been field tested against any “gold standard”—simply because there is no gold standard for these indicators. The study on household food consumption indicators (Vaitla et al. 2015) examined empirically how various indicators aligned with each other, but there was (and remains) no gold standard against which to test these. In order to field-check the validity of the HHS, this study was designed as a collaborative effort with surveys that would include the HHS—and then follow up with in-depth interviews of households identified by HHS as being in IPC Phase 4 or Phase 5. This study was designed to do this field-checking and suggest additional measures needed to help cross check the household classification.

Source: Tufts University

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