Where are the 11 hungriest countries in the world?

Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Haiti, Niger, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, Yemen, April 3, 2017

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  • More than 5 million people will face life-threatening hunger in South Sudan this year. Mercy Corps is responding to this crisis and others around the world to help people meet their urgent food needs. PHOTO: Jennifer Huxta for Mercy Corps

Hunger knows no borders. It touches people in war-torn cities and rural villages; in vast, empty deserts and on tropical islands.

Hunger can’t be boiled down to one cause or constrained by one geography. It requires a holistic approach—a willingness to look at all the factors, and anticipate tomorrow’s needs while still meeting today’s.

That’s why Mercy Corps focuses on the root causes that drive it: things like conflict, climate change and poverty.

To see why, you only have to look at the Global Hunger Index, an annual ranking of the hungriest places in the world. Of the 11 countries at the bottom of the list, all have widespread poverty and most are experiencing ongoing conflict.

Read on to see where hunger hits the hardest and learn how Mercy Corps is helping people around the world build a future where everyone has enough to eat.

A devastating hunger emergency

Due to insufficient data, 13 countries are not included on the Global Hunger Index, including 10 that are identified as being cause for significant concern: Burundi, the Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Syria.

Mercy Corps works in six of these countries—Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria—to help people meet their urgent food needs, including in places currently experiencing a devastating hunger crisis.

The statistics are overwhelming: In Somalia, more than 3 million people cannot meet their daily food needs and 1.4 million children are expected to be malnourished this year. More than 5 million people are severely food insecure and need emergency aid in northeast Nigeria, while more than 5 million people in South Sudan will face life-threatening hunger this year. After six years of war in Syria, more than 13 million people inside the country need humanitarian assistance.

Get the quick facts about the Syria crisis ▸

Mercy Corps is working hard to deliver lifesaving aid in these countries so people can meet their urgent needs. Learn more about our work and how you can help us respond to these crises here.

11. Pakistan

More than half of Pakistan's population is food insecure. Mercy Corps promotes maternal and infant nutrition so children can have a healthier start at life. PHOTO: Majid Ali/Mercy Corps

Though Pakistan is one of the world’s leading producers of wheat, 60 percent of its population is food insecure. The main reason is economic: poor and vulnerable populations who can’t afford an adequate diet. The average Pakistani household spends half its income on food—a major burden that leaves them vulnerable to price fluctuations and natural disasters.

To ease the burden and help families earn more money, Mercy Corps is helping promote economic development through job skills training, especially among women and youth who don’t have an education. We’re also focusing on maternal and infant nutrition by teaching women how to eat healthy while pregnant, the importance of prenatal checkups, and how to prepare for delivery and breastfeed a newborn.

10. Niger

Mercy Corps is teaching rural women in Niger how to grow stronger crops to get their families through the lean season. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Life in Niger can be extreme. Ranked near the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index, Niger faces several major challenges: its population is 80 percent rural, and nearly half of all Nigeriens live below the poverty line. The annual dry season all but halts food production every year and forces many people to leave the country to find work. Meanwhile, ongoing attacks from insurgent groups like Boko Haram are driving violence and displacement.

When hunger is this deeply ingrained in a community, it takes an integrated approach that touches all aspects of a community. Mercy Corps’ approach in Niger touches all aspects of a community: We are teaching new farming methods and technologies, helping people save money through community savings groups, empowering girls like Dahara to start new businesses and build a future, improving access to veterinary services, and training women to make their communities healthier.

9. Timor-Leste

In the face of a changing climate, Mercy Corps trained rice farmers in Timor-Leste to grow tilapia, allowing them to feed their families and make more money. PHOTO: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

Only 15 years old, Timor-Leste is a young country, but its hunger problems run deep. Nearly half its population is poor, and 60 percent of its children under 5 are stunted. Its financial sector is underdeveloped, and climate change posts a serious threat: drought, flooding and landslides often occur at the same time. Three-fourths of Timor’s people rely on agriculture for food and income.

Mercy Corps’ approach focuses on agriculture, economic opportunity and the environment. We’re helping farmers like Lino adjust to climate change, promoting clean energy so girls like Lourdes can build a stronger future, and supporting small businesses that can create new jobs.

8. Afghanistan

Mercy Corps' approach in Afghanistan focuses on strengthening communities by helping people build sustainable livelihoods. PHOTO: Cassandra Nelson for Mercy Corps

Decades of ongoing conflict, political instability, drought and economic chaos have left Afghanistan as one of the world’s poorest and most unstable nations. Eighty-five percent of the population depends on agriculture and natural resources for its livelihood, leaving millions of people vulnerable in a precarious economy. Today, more than 9 million people in Afghanistan are food insecure.

Mercy Corps is helping Afghans improve their quality of life by building sustainable, legitimate livelihoods. We are teaching farmers to increase their production and linking them to local markets, training young people to start small businesses, promoting clean and solar energy, and helping women learn job skills.

7. Sierra Leone

Despite recent economic growth, Sierra Leone is still recovering from the ravages of civil war and a recent Ebola outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people in west Africa. It also shares a common problem among hungry countries: more than 75 percent of its population earns its income from agriculture and can’t make enough money to afford proper food or medicine.

One of Sierra Leone’s most tragic problems is child malnutrition, which causes almost half of all child deaths.

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical. That’s when the body and brain are growing most rapidly, and proper nutrition is vital. In countries like Ethiopia, Guatemala and Niger, Mercy Corps focuses on proper infant care and nutrition—including exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months—so mothers can start their children on the right track.

6. Yemen

Yemen is one of four countries facing a serious food emergency that has put millions of lives in danger. PHOTO: Cassandra Nelson for Mercy Corps

Relentless conflict and natural disaster have put an unprecedented 20 million people at risk across Africa and Yemen. Today, nearly 7 million Yemenis rely on outside assistance for food and about 1.8 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition. The situation is so dire that a child under 5 dies every 10 minutes.

Mercy Corps is on the ground in Yemen providing urgently needed items like food, water and sanitation supplies, as well as cash assistance where possible. Learn more about this emergency and what you can do to help.

5. Madagascar

Madagascar has a unique and vibrant ecosystem, yet it also has a fundamental problem: 90 percent of its population lives on less than $2 a day. Almost half the children in Madagascar are malnourished—the fourth-highest rate in the world.

Madagascar is also vulnerable to serious climate shocks, which are a major driver of hunger around the world. Mercy Corps is committed to helping communities adapt to a changing climate: In places like Ethiopia, Indonesia and Nepal, we integrate climate change into all our programming, helping farmers manage limited water supplies and better care for their land.

4. Haiti

To help Haiti recover from two major natural disasters, Mercy Corps is promoting economic opportunity and more sustainable agriculture. PHOTO: Fabiola Coupet/Mercy Corps

The January 2010 earthquake dealt a devastating blow to a country where half the population lives on less than $1 a day. Still struggling to rebuild (and recover from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew), many families are hungry and have no means to support themselves. Harmful environmental practices have also damaged the country's vital agricultural land, decreasing production and leading to increased food insecurity.

Mercy Corps' long-term approach in Haiti focuses on economic opportunity, agriculture and the environment. We are helping families start new businesses, training young people with job skills, teaching farmers to diversify their gardens, and empowering women to strengthen their families.

3. Zambia

Unlike other countries on the list, Zambia is politically stable and has seen years of economic growth. Yet it has struggled to make any consistent gains in the fight against hunger. More than 60 percent of Zambians live in poverty and 40 percent of children under 5 are stunted.

Zambia’s goal is to become an industrious middle-income country by 2030. But more than 4 out of every 10 people are considered extremely poor, and 1 out of every 5 children is an HIV/AIDS orphan. In the face of serious health and economic challenges, Zambia illustrates why we have to work broadly to solve hunger. In countries like Zambia that depend heavily on subsistence farming, Mercy Corps focuses long-term on promoting economic development, improving child and maternal health, and helping farmers grow more food to feed their families.

2. Chad

Being a farmer in Chad is almost impossible. This landlocked, arid African nation is prone to devastating droughts and crippling locust infestations. A staggering 87 percent of Chad’s population lives below the poverty line, struggling to make it day-to-day in one of the hardest places on earth.

But Chad’s problems are made worse by an increasing number of refugees fleeing violence at home. Almost 500,000 refugees have fled to Chad from the Sudan, Central African Republic, and Nigeria. The Lake Chad crisis is one of the world’s untold emergencies, with hundreds of thousands of people facing devastating hunger.

Conflict is one of the major drivers of hunger around the world. It handicaps food availability, forces families from their homes, and severely stresses host communities. It’s one of the main reasons solving hunger in Africa takes so much more than food.

1. Central African Republic

Central African Republic has one of the world's most serious food emergencies. Mercy Corps is working with community organizations to give families a stronger future. PHOTO: Jenny Bussey Vaughan/Mercy Corps

The hunger crisis in Central African Republic is one of the world’s most serious emergencies. Plagued by poor governance and corruption, the country has been trapped in a cycle of conflict and underdevelopment for years. It has one of the lowest levels of human development in the world and a fragile economy that has left 2.5 million people food insecure.

Yet we still see a brighter future there. Mercy Corps is training vulnerable people to earn and save money to make their families more resilient. We’re also working with community organizations to monitor human rights, engage marginalized groups, and better manage the disputes that make people so vulnerable.

Get involved

PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Great progress has been made to alleviate hunger around the world, but there is still so much work to be done. We need your help.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us meet urgent food needs and help families around the world build a stronger, healthier future.

  • Sign the petition. Tell Congress not to cut international aid. Around the world, people are in need of lifesaving assistance—including those affected by famine. We must continue to support them.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to spread the word about the millions who need us.