Quick facts: What you need to know about global hunger

March 18, 2015

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Hunger is more than missing a meal. It’s a debilitating crisis that has almost one billion people in its grip.

Families struggling with chronic food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition don’t consistently have the food their minds and bodies need to function, which then prevents them from having the resources to improve their lives. It’s a perilous cycle that passes hunger from one generation to the next.

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Mercy Corps believes that breaking the cycle of poverty and building strong communities requires that every person has enough nutritious food to live a healthy and productive life. It is key to our work in more than 40 countries around the world.

Read on to see the infographics and better understand what the World Health Organization considers the greatest single threat to global public health.

Who is hungry?

One in every eight people goes to bed hungry each night.

Around the world, 842 million people do not have enough of the food they need to live an active, healthy life.

People suffering from chronic hunger are plagued with recurring illness, developmental disabilities and low productivity. They are often forced to use all their limited physical and financial resources just to put food on the table.

98 percent of the world’s hungry live in developing countries.

The highest number of malnourished people, 553 million, live in Asia and the Pacific, in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 227 million people face hunger in arid countries like Ethiopia, Niger and Mali.

And 47 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, in places like Guatemala and Haiti, are struggling to find enough to eat.

The majority of these hungry families live in rural areas where they widely depend on agriculture to survive.

60 percent of the world’s hungry are women.

Male-dominated social structures in many places limit the resources women have — job opportunities, financial services, education — making them more vulnerable to poverty and hunger.

This, in turn, impacts their children. A mother who suffers from hunger and malnourishment has an increased risk of suffering complications during childbirth or giving birth to an underweight baby, which can mean irreversible physical and mental stunting right from childbirth. Learn more about the impact of malnutrition.

Why are they hungry?

Many hungry people live in countries with food surpluses, not food shortages.

The issue, largely, is that the people who need food the most simply don’t have steady access to it.

In the hungriest countries, families struggle to get the food they need because of several endemic issues: lack of infrastructure like roads and storage facilities; frequent war and displacement; overwhelming dependence on livelihoods, like farming, that are disrupted by natural disaster or climate change; and chronic poverty.

75 percent of the world’s poorest families don’t buy their food — they grow it.

Many poverty-stricken families depend on their land and livestock for both food and income, leaving them vulnerable to natural disasters that can quickly strip them of their livelihoods.

Drought — the result of climate change and increasingly unpredictable rainfall — has become one of the most common causes of food shortages in the world. It consistently causes crop failures, kills entire herds of livestock and dries up farmland in poor communities that have no other means to survive.

One-third of the food produced around the world is never consumed.

In developing countries, so much food is wasted due to inadequate food production systems. Inefficient farming techniques, lack of post-harvest storage and management resources, and weak market connections are some of the factors responsible for significant food losses in these countries each year.

How does this affect their lives?


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Hunger traps people into a life of poverty and, ultimately, more hunger.

People living in poverty — less than $1.25 U.S. a day — struggle to afford safe, nutritious food to feed themselves and their families. As they grow hungrier they become weak, prone to illness and less productive, making it difficult to work. If they're farmers, they can't afford the tools, seeds and fertilizer they need to increase their production — let alone have the strength to perform the laborious work.

The limited income also means they often can't afford to send their children to school or they pull them out to work to help support the family. Even if children are lucky enough to go to class, their malnourishment prevents them from learning to their fullest.

Lack of education prevents better job opportunities in the future, confining yet another generation to the same life of poverty and hunger.

300 million children go hungry every day.

And most of them are suffering from long-term malnourishment that has serious health implications — and will keep them from reaching their full potential.

Malnutrition causes stunting — when the body fails to fully develop physically and mentally — and increases a child’s risk of death and lifelong illness. A child who is chronically hungry cannot grow or learn to their full ability. In short, it steals away their future.

Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Around 9 million people die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every year, more than double the lives taken by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in 2012.

Every 10 seconds, a child dies from hunger.

Poor nutrition is responsible for nearly half of all deaths in children under the age of five — 3.1 million children die each year because their bodies don’t have enough of the basic nutrients they need to function and grow.

What can we do about it?


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There will be over 2 billion more people who need food by 2050.

The world's population is projected to exceed 9 billion by 2050 — up from 6.9 billion in 2010. Making sure there's enough for everyone to eat will be an increasing concern as the population multiplies. Even though we must increase production to keep up with the demand and find new, secure sources of food, the main challenge in the future fight against hunger will be ensuring that every family is able to access it — it's the same challenge we're faced with today.

The world produces enough food for everyone to live a healthy, productive life.

There is now 17 percent more food available per person than there was 30 years ago. And if all the world's food were evenly distributed, there would be enough for everyone to get 2,700 calories per day — even more than the minimum 2,100 requirement for proper health.

The challenge is not a lack of food — it’s making food consistently available to everyone who needs it.

Female farmers have the potential to pull 150 million people out of hunger.

Empowering women is essential to global food security. Almost half of the world’s farmers are women, but they lack the same tools — land rights, financing, training — that their male counterparts have, and their farms are less productive as a result.

If women and men had equal agricultural resources, female farmers could increase their productivity enough to help lift 1.5 million people out of hunger.

Mercy Corps takes a holistic approach to alleviate hunger right now and help communities meet their own food needs far into the future.

Responding to urgent needs: When disaster or war creates a hunger crisis, we quickly provide emergency food, vouchers to buy food, treatment for malnutrition, and cash-for-work projects so people can earn the money to buy food locally.

Improving access to food: We help farmers increase their yields, diversify crops, raise healthier animals and protect their harvests from spoiling and loss.

Supporting overall health: We teach nutrition and hygiene, help new mothers properly care for infant and child needs, and improve access to clean drinking water and sanitation, so people can avoid disease and benefit fully from the food they eat.

Building a more food-secure future: We connect buyers and sellers to increase farmers' incomes and strengthen markets; introduce mobile financial services to help famers grow their business; and teach communities to protect and preserve the environment they depend on.

The number of people living with hunger has dropped over the last 23 years.

Change is possible. The number of people living with chronic hunger has dropped 17 percent since 1990, when the United Nations set the development goal to halve the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015.

If the average decline of the past 23 years continues, we will reach that goal soon. To meet it — and surpass it — we need to do more and act now.

How you can help

You are an important part of this progress. Your support helps provide emergency food and agricultural solutions to keep families from going hungry in the world's toughest places. Donate today ▸

Sources: FAO, Greenpeace, The Hunger Project, The Lancet, the United Nations, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization.