World hunger: facts & how to help

Updated Jul 23, 2020
15 minutes
Nobody wants to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Yet over 800 million people around the world – most of them in developing countries – suffer from chronic food deprivation on a daily basis.
Global hunger creates a cycle that people can’t escape from. It causes individuals to be less productive and more prone to disease, which in turn makes them less able to improve their livelihoods or earn a better income. But with the planet producing enough food to feed everyone, why are so many people going hungry? Get the facts about world hunger and what you can do to help.
  1. What is world hunger?
  2. Why is world hunger a problem?
  3. What is the main cause of hunger in the world?
  4. What are the solutions to world hunger?
  5. What can I do to help?
1. What is world hunger?

World hunger refers to pockets of the human population who regularly do not get enough food to eat. For the third year in a row, the number of hungry people is on the rise – as of 2017, there were more than 821 million people facing chronic food deprivation. That’s one in every nine people on the planet. 

A vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries. The situation is worst in Africa, with almost 21 per cent of the population there facing hunger on a daily basis. As a region, Sub-Saharan Africa struggles the most, with nearly one in every four people facing undernourishment.

A family migrates across Kenya with their belongings.A family migrates from the Mogilla mountains to a community in Turkana, Kenya in search of food, water and medicine. Persistent drought has destroyed most of their livestock.

Asia is the continent with the highest number of hungry people in absolute terms. More than 11 per cent of their population faces chronic food deprivation, which represents over 515 million people. The outlook has improved in southern Asia in recent years, but in western Asia hunger has been increasing.

Over the last decade, we’ve taken significant steps towards the goal of eradicating global hunger. Yet 2017’s represented a return to global hunger numbers from nearly 10 years ago. The worsening situation calls for increased efforts by governments and international agencies, if the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating global hunger is to be achieved by 2030.
2. Why is world hunger a problem?

The effects of world hunger are as diverse as they are devastating. At its core, a diet characterized by an insufficient intake of calories, proteins, vitamins and minerals impedes human development at every level – for infants, children and adults. In turn, this negatively impacts the health, education, economic and social development of entire communities across the globe.

Children awaiting their checkup at a health clinic.Malnourished children are brought to Nanum Health Clinic in northern Turkana, Kenya by their parents. They receive a checkup to assess their nutritional status and nutritional supplements supplied by World Vision.

Hunger is more than just having enough food to eat – it’s about having enough nutritious food to eat. Poor nutrition is attributed to 45 per cent of deaths in children under the age of five, while one out of every six children in developing countries is underweight. A significant portion of the world’s population is also affected by micronutrient deficiencies – a shortage of vitamins and minerals necessary to good health. This is sometimes called “hidden hunger,” because there may not be obvious, visible signs of malnutrition. Iron deficiency in women of reproductive age is a prime example of a micronutrient deficiency.
The right to food is a basic human right. And while our planet produces enough food to feed the more than 7 billion people who inhabit it, systemic inequality and economic disparity has led to unbalanced distribution and unequal access. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that one-third of the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted. At the same time, hunger kills more people every year than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined. But this is an injustice that we can remedy in our lifetime – if done right, agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide enough nutritious food for all.
3. What is the main cause of hunger in the world?

Like all complex issues that impact us at a global level, the causes of world hunger are multifaceted. Persistent instability due to adverse climate events, conflict and economic slowdowns all contribute to food insecurity. But with the majority of hungry people living in developing countries, the main cause of hunger around the world is poverty.

Poverty is the principal cause of global hunger. The unequal distribution of income and lack of resources in developing countries means that millions of people simply cannot afford the land or farming supplies they need to grow, or otherwise gain access to nutritious food. It’s a cyclical problem too – if you’re constantly hungry, you suffer from low levels of energy and reductions in mental and physical functioning, which in turn makes it difficult for you to work or learn. This then leads to continued poverty and continued hunger.

A girl shades herself from the sun with a bag used to carry food from distribution.A girl shades herself from the harsh sun with a bag used to carry food from distribution. World Vision distributes food in communities and regions where severe drought has led to chronic hunger and loss of most of the livestock.

Increasingly, climate variability and extremes are becoming a key force behind world hunger. The number of climate-related disasters – drought, famine, floods, severe heat – has doubled since the early 1990s. In 2017 alone, nearly 124 million people across 51 countries faced “crisis” levels of acute food insecurity or worse, requiring immediate emergency action to safeguard their lives and livelihoods.
Soaring temperatures and shifting patterns in rainfall have adverse effects on crops and livestock, which in turn have significant implications for food security and nutrition. Drought, in particular, is attributed to more than 80 per cent of the total damage and loss in agriculture. World hunger facts routinely illustrate that chronic food deprivation is significantly worse in regions with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to temperature and rainfall variability. In these areas, high proportions of the population depend on those agricultural systems and do not have support systems in place to offset the losses. Most of those regions are in Africa or Asia.

Conflict & Instability
The 2018 Global Report on Food Crises revealed that conflict and instability are the primary culprits behind food insecurity in 18 countries, accounting for 60 per cent of the global total. Political conflict can negatively impact market infrastructure, transportation services and land availability on the community level, while simultaneously causing income loss, displacement from homes and inflation of food prices at the individual level. As regions become increasingly volatile and besieged by violence, vital services and supplies become even more inaccessible to the most vulnerable. In fact, the UN estimates that 80 per cent of its humanitarian funding needs are directly attributed to conflict. It’s clear that future efforts to fight global hunger must go hand-in-hand with those to sustain world peace.
Economic Slowdown
Even in peaceful settings, the slowdown in global economic growth in recent years has led to worsening food insecurity. From import capacity and food access, to commodity prices and subsidies for social protection programs, rising costs and reduced spending has negatively impacted the ability of people in many countries to feed themselves.
4. What are the solutions to world hunger?

In order to effectively fight chronic food deprivation, governments, non-governmental organizations and global leaders across all sectors need to work together to find new solutions to world hunger. Food security means knowing where your next meals are coming from – not just today, but for weeks and months to come. By empowering communities to produce or purchase their own food, families can be better equipped to handle future food challenges.

Farmers and World Vision staff discuss the progress of a community farm.Farmers and World Vision staff discuss the progress of a large community cassava farm. Three years ago, World Vision began to build a bridge between relief and development in South Sudan. All projects in the area work in combination to achieve one goal: To improve the livelihood of the local population.

Sustainable Agriculture
A profound shift of our global food production systems is needed if we are to nourish the 821 million people who are hungry today. It’s time to radically rethink how we grow, share and consume our food. If managed well, our agriculture, forestry and fisheries can provide enough nutritious food for everyone on the planet – while also generating sustainable incomes and protecting the environment. Learn more about World Vision’s work with Farming First, a global coalition for sustainable agricultural development.
Climate Resilience
Our oceans, freshwater sources, forests, soil and biodiversity are rapidly degrading. Climate change continues to put pressure on these valuable resources, while ramping up the risks we face with natural disasters. These extremes and variabilities are expected to persist into the future, so we must find ways to strengthen farming systems and livelihoods around the world. In particular, helping vulnerable communities to build resiliency ensures they can cope when emergencies strike. World Vision helps to provide lifesaving food and nutrition to meet immediate needs during natural crises, while continuing to focus on building long-term resilience in the face of disasters.

Two women tending to a small community farm.Martha, left, became a leader in gardening when she lived as a refugee in Kenya. When she returned to South Sudan, she took those skills with her, planting spinach, peanuts, corn, tomatoes and other vegetables. Today, she tends to two hectares of gardens – ensuring her family eats well and selling the extra produce to neighbours.

Focus on Women
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, women make up 45 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Yet these women are not treated the same as their male counterparts. They routinely face more extreme poverty, less education, competing priorities and have less access or control over land and resources. By closing the gender gap, women can be empowered to feed their families, grow nutritious food, expand their businesses and participate in agricultural markets.
World Vision is also a leader in the 1000 Day Journey, a development program that works to ensure mothers and their children get proper nutrition in the first 1000 days of their lives – from conception to the child’s second birthday. With a strong focus on dietary diversification, nutrition and micronutrients, this program enables women to help reduce the number of children who face malnutrition – dramatically altering the future of their families and communities.
5. What can I do to help?
World hunger can seem like one of those insurmountable problems, too big for any of us to fix. But by making changes in our own lives – at home, at work, in our communities – we too can contribute to finding world hunger solutions. Together, we can build a world where meals are shared, everyone has a seat at the table and there is always enough food to go around.

A man holding carrots harvested from a community garden.A farmer with carrots grown and harvested through one of World Vision’s community projects in Mongolia.

Shop and eat local
The average Canadian meal travels 3,000 km before reaching our plates. By shopping at local farmers’ markets or growing our own herbs and vegetables, we can make more sustainable food choices while taking actionable steps towards good health and nutrition.
Aim for zero food waste
We all have a part to play in reducing the 1.3 billion tons of food that goes to waste each year. Rather than losing a third of the world’s food production to the garbage can, we can take small, attainable steps like cooking and sharing meals with others or composting our leftovers.

Children are fed sorghum and beans at school.Around 700 children are fed sorghum and beans during their lunch break at a school in South Sudan Many of the children walk great distances to get to school, but this is often their only meal of the day.

Take humanitarian Action
In the aftermath of natural disasters, vulnerable communities around the globe require immediate food and nutrition assistance. Where communities face chronic shortages, your gift to World Vision’s food programs help provide nutritious school meals and life-saving food packets to children most in need. Lastly, by sponsoring a child, you can help eradicate extreme hunger for that child and his or her family and community.

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