Editor's note: This article was originally published April 3, 2017; it was updated February 2, 2018 to reflect the latest information.
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 (GHI), 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 GHI for 2017, including nine that are identified as being cause for significant concern: Burundi, the Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria.
Mercy Corps works in five of these countries—the DRC, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria—to help people meet their urgent food needs, including in places currently experiencing a devastating hunger crisis.
The statistics are overwhelming: After seven years of war in Syria, more than 13 million people inside the country need humanitarian assistance. In the DRC, more than 9 million people are severely food insecure and need emergency aid. More than 3 million people in Somalia cannot meet their daily food needs and 1.2 million children are expected to be malnourished this year, while more than 5 million people in South Sudan are expected to face life-threatening hunger this year.
Two of the four countries facing credible risk of famine this year are not included in the index: South Sudan and Somalia. The other two countries at risk, Nigeria and Yemen, are included in the GHI but aren’t classified as “extremely alarming” when compared to other countries, given the inequality and timing of their crises. In Nigeria, for example, the risk of famine is concentrated in conflict-affected areas of the northeast, while the rest of the country faces minimal food-security concerns.
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.
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.
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 16 years old, Timor-Leste is a young country, but its hunger problems run deep. Nearly half its population is poor, and more than 50 percent of 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. Eighty percent 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.
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.
Community educators for the Centre for Liberian Assistance mobilize for a community outreach on the dangers of Ebola. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps
The 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa hit Liberia hard, killing over 4,800 people, devastating the lives of thousands more and wreaking havoc on the country’s economy. Even though it’s been two years since the outbreak ended, the economic impacts continue to threaten the progress the country has made in its recovery from a prolonged civil war that ended in 2003.
Over 80 percent of people live on less than $1.25 a day. Almost half of its population is considered food insecure, and a third of children are malnourished.
To speed economic recovery and help families overcome the lingering effects of this crisis, Mercy Corps is distributing emergency food and providing seeds, tools and cash so people can restart their livelihoods and purchase food and supplies.
Sudan is up against high inflation, a shrinking economy, student protests and protracted conflict, as well as stiff American sanctions and genocide charges related to Darfur. The independence of South Sudan in 2011 resolved years of civil war, but clashes continue to arise between Sudan and its new neighbor.
This conflict and the El Niño weather phenomenon have left millions without enough food to eat. Some 3.5 million people in the country need assistance, and almost half of the population lives in poverty.
Mercy Corps is working hard to support returnees and vulnerable host communities, connecting farmers to the agricultural tools, seeds and information they need to grow enough food to feed themselves and have enough left to sell in the local market. We are also drilling, repairing and maintaining critical water points, and supporting communities’ capacity to spur local economic development and alleviate poverty.
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
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and one of the four countries at risk of famine. Today, 17.8 million Yemenis—over half the population—do not have enough to eat. More than 8 million people need urgent assistance for food and about 1.8 million children and 1.1 million pregnant or lactating mothers are suffering from acute malnutrition.
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.
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.
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.
3. 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.
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 rural 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 400,000 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 the lowest ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index and a fragile economy that has left 2.5 million people food insecure — half of its population.
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.
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.
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