World hunger: facts & how to help

Updated Sep 26, 2023
15 minutes
World hunger is worsening at an unprecedented rate. The number of people suffering from chronic hunger worldwide has climbed to 783 million as of 2022. Over 40 million people are facing emergency levels of hunger across 51 countries. The situation has gotten so serious in the last couple of years that many countries are now at the risk of famine.
But global hunger is not just the state of people being hungry. It does not end when you give them meals on a regular basis. Hunger is also associated with the distress that comes with the lack of food. It means not having the energy and strength to work and provide more food for the family. It’s the lack of food resources forcing people to uproot themselves from home. It’s a vicious cycle that a person cannot escape from simply by having food to eat. 

The world produces enough food to feed the entire population. Yet millions of people still don’t have enough food to sustain them. How has the situation progressed into what it is today? Read on to know more about world hunger.
  1. What is world hunger?
  2. Why is world hunger a problem?
  3. What are 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?

The United Nations’ (UN) Hunger report defines hunger as ”periods when populations are experiencing severe food insecurity.” World hunger is when people spend entire days with nothing to eat due to various reasons such as lack of money and lack of access to food and other resources. When a person consumes below 1,800 calories per day, it qualifies as food deprivation or undernourishment.

Around the world, up to 783 million people regularly go to sleep hungry. And while world hunger rates have been on a decline in the past decade, the numbers started rising again at an alarming rate since 2017.

Among the causes of this increase in global world hunger rates are climate change and natural disasters, conflict in several territories and the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing situation in Ukraine is also likely to contribute to the rise in numbers by the end of the year. 

A vast majority of the world's hungry people live in countries and territories in conflict. The World Food Programme (WFP) identifies conflict as the number one driver of hunger, with nearly 60 per cent of the world’s hungriest people living in conflict-affected areas.

In its 2023 Global Report on Food Crises, the WFP identified ten countries and territories with the highest number of people in crisis. These are: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Myanmar, Syrian Arab Republic, Sudan, Ukraine and Pakistan. In 2022, the DRC surpassed Yemen as the world’s largest hunger crisis with the number of severely hungry people skyrocketing to 27 million (from 13 million in 2019). 

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. Photo: World Vision

At this point, the UN is clear about one thing: the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating global hunger by 2030. In fact, if recent trends continue, the world could face 840 million people affected by hunger 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.

Yemeni women and children sitting on the ground outdoors.Child malnutrition is rising at an alarming rate in Yemen – one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises – where access to food and water is more challenging than ever. As of 2022, 2.2 million children across the country are acutely malnourished. Photo: 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 the death of 5 million children under the age of five in 2020. According to a 2022 UNICEF report, 1 in every 5 deaths of children under age five globally is attributed to severe wasting. 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.
Enough nutritious food on a regular basis is a basic human right. And while our planet produces enough food to feed the more than 7.95 billion people who inhabit it, systemic inequality and economic disparity has led to unbalanced distribution and unequal access.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that 17 per cent of or 1.3 billion tons of food available to consumers are wasted. This is on top of the 1.2 billion tons more of food that is lost on farms.  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 are 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. Although the majority of people suffering from extreme hunger are living in developing countries, the main cause of hunger around the world is poverty. However, it is worth noting that poverty, in turn, is worsened significantly by climate crises, armed conflict and economic collapse.

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. In some cases, farmers lose crops and gardens entirely when they are unable to irrigate due to droughts. 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. Photo: World Vision

Increasingly, climate variability and extremes are becoming a key force behind world hunger. The number of climate-related disasters – drought, food crisis, floods, severe heat – has doubled since the early 1990s. As of 2022, over 40 million people are facing emergency levels of hunger worldwide, requiring immediate action to safeguard their lives and livelihoods.
Soaring temperatures and shifting patterns in rainfall have dramatic effects on crops and livestock, which in turn have devastating implications for food security and nutrition. FAO identifies drought as the greatest single culprit of agricultural production loss, amounting to 82 per cent. In least developed countries and low to middle income economies, drought contributes to 34 per cent of crop and livestock production losses. 

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. Some of the countries and regions that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change in agriculture include sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, the DRC, the Dominican Republic, as well as small island nations such as the Maldives.

Conflict & instability
The 2023 Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC 2023) highlights the alarming levels of hunger worldwide, specifically the 258 million people affected by acute food insecurity across 58 countries and territories in crisis—up from 193 million people in 53 countries in 2021. 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 2023 Global Humanitarian Overview of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian $51.5 billion USD will be needed to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to 339 million people. A significant number of people in need of immediate aid are in conflict-affected countries such as the DRC, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan and Syria. It’s clear that future efforts to fight global hunger must go hand-in-hand with those to sustain world peace.

COVID-19 pandemic
The GRFC 2023 report also identified the COVID-19 pandemic as another driver of acute food insecurity. Economic shocks brought on by the pandemic, plus the combination of soaring global food prices, widespread supply chain disruptions and an uneven global economic recovery, all contribute to the alarming rise of global hunger. 

Economic shocks
In countries already suffering from food insecurity and inaccessibility even before the pandemic, the ongoing economic crisis has worsened their situation. In 2022, according to the report, economic shocks surpassed conflict as the main driver of acute food insecurity in terms of number of countries/territories affected. Combined with job losses and surging prices, food has become unaffordable for millions of families around the world.

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. Photo: World Vision

Sustainable agriculture
A profound shift of our global food production systems is needed if we are to nourish the 783 million people going to sleep hungry every night. It’s time to radically rethink how we grow, share and consume our food. Despite severe climate change, rampant armed conflict, disruptions in food imports and many other obstacles to addressing world hunger, managing our industries can go a long way toward feeding the world’s people. 
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 predicted to worsen in the future, so we must find ways to strengthen farming systems and livelihoods around the world. Helping vulnerable communities 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 long-term solutions to climate change.

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. Photo: World Vision

Focus on women
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, women make up 43 per cent of the global agricultural labour force, while in developing countries, two in three women are employed in farming. 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.

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. 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 fair serving 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. Photo: World Vision

Shop and eat local
Ingredients for the average meal travel thousands of kilometres before reaching our plates, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. 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 2.5 billion tons of food worldwide that goes uneaten each year. Rather than losing approximately 40 per cent of all food grown, 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. Photo: World Vision

Take humanitarian action
In the face of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent years – armed conflict, natural disasters brought about by climate change, and economic instability –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. You can also help communities learn how to combat climate change. Lastly, by sponsoring a child, you can help eradicate extreme hunger for that child and his or her family and community.

Updated by Charizze Abulencia, Deborah Wolfe, Karen-Luz Sison

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