Global hunger levels have risen in the last 3 years, from 785 million in 2015 to 822 million in 2018. This is in no small part due to climate change and the resulting climate crisis, which are causing crop failures due to weather-related disasters. As the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, writes in the introduction to the 2019 Global Hunger Index, “it is a terrible global indictment that after decades of sustained progress in reducing global hunger, climate change and conflict are now undermining food security in the world’s most vulnerable regions.”
Produced annually by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, the Global Hunger Index examines the available data for hunger levels around the world. Overall, the 2019 GHI scores indicate that global hunger is moving from serious to moderate, reflecting a 31% decline in global hunger since 2000. However, multiple countries have higher hunger levels in 2019 than they did in 2010. Conflict, inequality, and the effects of climate change are all contributors to these instances of high levels. Here, according to the 2019 Global Hunger Index, are the current top 10 hungriest countries.
Afghanistan recently experienced its worst drought in decades, brought on by the effects of La Niña. In 2018, it faced a rain, snow, and sleet deficit of 70% that led to a harvest that was over 60% below the country’s five-year average. While the drought’s impact is expected to wane in 2019, ongoing conflict combined with climate and livelihood crises means that there are still nearly 5 million people who are food-insecure, roughly 14% of the population. This includes 4 million Afghanis who are food-insecure due to natural disasters. In 2019, 3.6 million are at Emergency levels of food insecurity, which is a 24% increase compared to 2018 figures.
Food insecurity in Zimbabwe was exacerbated this year by a combination of ongoing drought and, in several provinces, the adverse effects of Cyclone Idai. While drought contributed to a number of crop failures, flooding from the cyclone washed away crops in the affected areas. The country is now once again in the grips of drought, which contributed to a cereal deficit of over 900,000 metric tons and has left 3.6 million people food-insecure. The UN estimates that 5.5 million (or 59% of the country’s rural population) will be food insecure at the peak of the “hungry season” between harvests (next January through March).
The small island nation of Timor-Leste is one of Asia’s poorest countries. One-third of the population of 1.2 million suffers chronic food insecurity. While the rate of stunting children ages 5 and younger has gone down in the last 10 years (from 58% in 2009/2010 to 46% in 2016), that number is still high — as is the rate of undernutrition for women of reproductive age. The United Nations recommends improving the health and diet of women ages 15-49 in order to break the cycle of stunting.
Haiti has the highest level of hunger in the Western Hemisphere. The island nation has suffered from a destructive combination of political instability and natural disasters including the ongoing effects of the country’s 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. At the beginning of 2019, 2.6 million Haitians were food insecure, roughly 23% of the country’s population. The UN estimates that number is higher, with aid for many of the food-insecure populations unable to reach the designated areas due to security issues.
Liberia is a new addition to 2019’s ranking of the world’s hungriest countries, but its food insecurity stems back to its 1989-2003 civil war. In the last two years, the country’s food security has been threatened due to ongoing rains. Roughly 1.8 million Liberians are undernourished, and 2.9 million are food-insecure (just over 62% of the population). 35.5% of Liberia’s children suffer the effects of stunting. Still in recovery from both civil war and the West African Ebola epidemic, Liberia also ranks among the poorest countries in the world, and is one of 41 countries to receive foreign assistance for food.
Despite enjoying a long period of peace and stability, climate change has severely impacted the landlocked country of Zambia, where most farmers rely on rain to grow their crops. In 2019, many areas in southern and western Zambia saw the lowest rainfalls since at least 1981 (when record-keeping began for the country). The northern and eastern sectors of the country, meanwhile, have also suffered due to flash floods and waterlogging. 40% of Zambian children continue to be stunted, a figure that has remained consistent over the last few years, and the UN estimates that the current number of acutely food-insecure Zambians (1.7 million) will rise to 2.3 million by March 2020.
Every year, Madagascar is hit by an average of 1.5 cyclones, the highest number in Africa. In 2019, the country saw the effects of both Cyclone Idai in March and Cyclone Kenneth in April. Like many of the world’s hungriest countries this year, these periods of extreme flooding are matched by long periods of drought, which has left nearly half of the country’s districts classified at crisis-level food insecurity. As of this writing, the UN estimates over 730,000 citizens face food insecurity (including over 134,500 at an emergency level of food insecurity). This number may seem small, but it accounts for 21% of the population. By the end of this year, the UN estimates that number will rise to over 916,000 — 26% of the population. Over 188,550 children are suffering from acute malnutrition.
Part of the Sahel region of West Africa, Chad faces continuous drought and unpredictable rains that have created a crisis in the area. The resulting food insecurity that comes from these climate disasters has been exacerbated due to an influx of refugees from conflict-torn Nigeria, Sudan, and the Central African Republic — all of whom need emergency food assistance. Nearly 3.7 million Chadians are food-insecure, a 29% increase since 2018. The number of children suffering from acute malnutrition also rose from last year’s total of 220,000 to surpassing 350,000 in 2019.
Yemen is in the grips of a brutal conflict that currently ranks as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Food insecurity has risen in the last year, with more than 20 million people across the country facing hunger and 10 million people suffering from extreme levels of hunger. There are an estimated 7.4 million Yemenis requiring malnutrition treatment, including 2 million children facing acute malnutrition. These figures have led to the UN declaring Yemen the world’s largest food security crisis, driven primarily by conflict.
1. Central African Republic
While Yemen is currently the site of the world’s largest food security crisis, the Central African Republic (CAR) remains at the top of this list as the “hungriest country in the world.” One of the world’s poorest countries, CAR has suffered from instability, ethnic violence and conflict since 2012, disrupting food production and leaving 63% of the total population in need of humanitarian assistance. This includes 2.1 million people (46% of the population) suffering from food insecurity, a 10% increase from last year. Per the UN, the current level of food consumption in the CAR is at its second lowest, just behind levels recorded in 2016.
In many countries where we know that hunger is widespread and at levels that are a cause for significant concern, there are insufficient data for assessment and inclusion in the GHI. For 2019, these include: Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria.