World Hunger Facts & Statistics
- One in 9 people go hungry each day around the world — 821 million people worldwide.
- That said, the world produces enough food to feed all 7.5 billion people.
- While this is a high number, the level of hunger in the world has decreased by 27% since 2000.
- The world has committed to reaching zero hunger by 2030 as part of the 2030 Agenda.
- Africa is the continent with the highest percentage of undernourishment, affecting almost 21% of the population (more than 256 million people).
- South America’s percentage of undernourishment has also risen from 4.7% in 2014 to a projected 5% in 2017.
- The Central African Republic remains the world’s hungriest country as of 2018.
- Stunting, one of the main side effects of malnourishment for children, is on the decline: Between 2012 and 2017, the number of stunted children decreased from 165.2 million to 150.8 million.
- Conflict, climate, and corruption are the top causes of world hunger — see more below.
What Causes World Hunger?
When it comes to world hunger, it’s easy to become so overwhelmed by the “what” that we sometimes forget to ask “why.” Let’s look at some of the most common root causes of world hunger that we need to address if we’re to meet our goal of a hunger-free world by 2030.
Poverty and hunger exist in a vicious cycle: Those living in poverty often face hunger as they cannot afford nutritious food for themselves and their families. On the flip-side, hunger fuels poverty as it’s difficult for people to earn more money when they’re undernourished. In response, families may sell off their livestock or tools, or buy only staple foods like wheat rather than fresh fruit and vegetables. All of these measures buy short-term relief but perpetuate a longer-term cycle between nutrition and extreme poverty. This cycle often passes from parents to their children, making it hard to break the pattern. Poverty frequently goes hand-in-hand with many of the other causes of hunger on this list — read on for more.
2. Food shortages
Over the past ten years, the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa (including Somalia and Kenya) have been repeatedly affected by food shortages and food insecurity. In these areas of the developing world, where families rely on their own small farms to grow their food, there are periods before harvests known as “hungry seasons.” These are the times of year when food supplies from the previous harvest are all but exhausted, yet the opportunity to replenish supplies is still some time away. In years of bountiful harvests, families often try to put aside reserves. But climate variability has led to repeated droughts in some areas and floods in others, devastating any meager reserves families might have had. That means families are forced to skip one or several meals each day in order to make it to the next harvest — which could be months away.
3. War & conflict
It’s not just weather and harvest patterns that lead to hunger: War and conflict are also among the leading destroyers of food security. In South Sudan, civil war has led to mass displacement and abandoned fields. The resulting crop failure, combined with a soaring inflation rate that puts imported food out of reach, has left 3.5 million people hungry. Similarly, Yemen’s ongoing conflict has led to nearly 18 million people facing hunger — over 65% of the population.
4. Climate change
Some countries, such as Zambia, enjoy relative peace and stability, yet are often plagued by hunger due to droughts or floods. Too much or too little rainfall can destroy harvests or substantially reduce the amount of animal pasture available. Unfortunately these fluctuations — which are made worse by the El Niño weather system and are likely to increase due to changes in climate — often affect the poorest regions of the world the most. What’s more, the World Bank estimates that climate change has the power to push more than 100 million people into poverty over the next decade.
5. Poor nutrition
When we talk about hunger, we’re not just talking about access to food, but also access to the right nutrients. In order to thrive, humans need a range of foods providing a variety of essential health benefits. Poor families often rely on just one or two staple foods— like corn or wheat — which means they’re not getting enough of critical macronutrients like protein, and they’re also missing out on lots of important vitamins and minerals. The less nourished and balanced a person’s diet, the poorer their health will be. This results in less energy, meaning that these families will be less likely to break the poverty-hunger cycle. This is especially important for women and young children: Nutrition support during pregnancy and up to the age of five can help protect children for their entire lives, reducing the likelihood of disease, poor health, and cognitive impairment. Through the LANN project, communities in countries like Sierra Leone are learning how to identify nutrient-rich wild foods that are safe to eat in order to make the most of their available resources. This is one of the many ways we look for sustainable solutions for malnourished communities.
Systemic problems, like poor infrastructure or a lack of investment in agriculture, often make it hard for food and water to reach the world populations that need it most. Ending hunger requires commitment, concerted action, and political will at both national and international levels, with focuses on sustainable development, climate change, and disaster risk reduction. Each year, Concern partners with Welthungerhilfe to produce the Global Hunger Index; released last October, the 2018 edition underlines the connection between hunger and forced migration, a problem which can only be resolved by a political solution.
Much like the poverty-hunger cycle, nutritional resilience at a national level is tied to a country’s economic resilience. For example, Liberia’s overall economic troubles deepened after the Ebola outbreak in 2014, and now more than 15% of the country’s families don’t know where their next meal will come from. Working towards economic stability is crucial to addressing other issues.
8. Food waste
According to the World Food Programme, 1/3 of all food produced — over 1.3 billion tons of it — is never consumed. What’s more, producing this wasted food also uses other natural resources that, when threatened, have a ripple effect in the countries that are already hit hardest in terms of hunger, poverty, and climate change. Producing this wasted food requires an amount of water equal to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River and adds 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
9. Gender inequality
In its outline of Sustainable Development Goal 2, the UN reveals that, “if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.” Female farmers are responsible for growing, harvesting, preparing, and selling the majority of food in poor countries. Women are on the frontlines of the fight against hunger, yet they are frequently underrepresented at the forums where important decisions on policy and resources are made.
While the causes of hunger are complex, change is possible and there is hope in action. Learn more about how Concern is protecting the world’s poorest from the rising price of food, how mobile phones can fight hunger in the Sahel region of Africa, and make your own impact by supporting our efforts working in some of the world’s 10 hungriest countries.