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There are an estimated 1.2 Billion undernourished people in the world today. That means one in  six people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to the health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Among the key causes of hunger are natural disasters, conflict, poverty, poor agricultural infrastructure and over-exploitation of the environment. Recently, financial and economic



Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods-vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs-enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food.

Food is always available for those who can afford it—starvation during hard times hits only the poorest. Millions live on the brink of disaster in south Asia, Africa and elsewhere, because they are deprived of land by a powerful few, trapped in the unremitting grip of debt, or miserably paid.


Hunger Glossary: nutrition-related terms and definitions 

  • Hunger is the body's way of signaling that it is running short of food and needs to eat something. Hunger can lead to malnutrition

  • Undernourishment: describes the status of people whose food intake does not include enough calories (energy) to meet minimum physiological needs.The term is a measure of a country's ability to gain access to food and is normally derived from Food Balance Sheets prepared by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

  • Malnutrition/ Undernutrition: defined as a state in which the physical function of an individual is impaired to the point where he or she can no longer maintain natural bodily capacities such as growth, pregnancy, lactation, learning abilities, physical work and resisting and recovering from disease.The term covers a range of problems from being dangerously thin (see Underweight) or too short (see Stunting) for one's age to being deficient in vitamins and minerals or being too fat (obese). Malnutrition is measured not by how much food is eaten but by physical measurements of the body - weight or height - and age (see Stunting, Wasting, Underweight)

  • Stunting: reflects shortness-for-age; an indicator of chronic malnutrition and calculated by comparing the height-for-age of a child with a reference population of well nourished and healthy children. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization's 2004 report on Food Insecurity, almost one third of all children are stunted

  • Wasting: reflects a recent and severe process that has led to substantial weight loss, usually associated with starvation and/or disease. Calculated by comparing weight-for-height of a child with a reference population of well nourished and healthy children. Often used to assess the severity of emergencies because it is strongly related to mortality

  • Underweight: measured by comparing the weight-for-age of a child with a reference population of well nourished and healthy children.


Hunger Facts


  • 25,000 people (adults and children) die every day from hunger and related causes; 

  • Over 1 Billion  people do not have enough to eat - more than the populations of USA, Canada and the European Union;

  • The number of undernourished people in the world increased by 75 million in 2007 and 40 million, largely due to higher food prices;

  • 907 million people in developing countries alone are hungry;

  • Asia and the Pacific region is home to over half the world’s population and nearly two thirds of the world’s hungry people;

  • More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women;

  • 65 percent  of the world's hungry live in only seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. 



  • Every six seconds a child dies because of hunger and related causes; 

  • More than 70 percent of the world's 146 million underweight children under age five years live in just 10 countries, with more than 50 per cent located in South Asia alone;

  • 10.9 million children under five die in developing countries each year. Malnutrition and hunger-related diseases cause 60 percent of the deaths;

  • The cost of undernutrition to national economic development is estimated at US$20-30 billion per annum;

  • One out of four children - roughly 146 million - in developing countries are underweight;

  • WFP provided school meals and/or take home rations to 19.3 million children in 70 countries in 2007;


  • It is estimated that 684,000 lives child deaths worldwide could be prevented by increasing access to vitamin A and zinc

  • Undernutrition contributes to 53 percent of the 9.7 million deaths of children under five each year in developing countries. This means that one child dies every six seconds from malnutrition and related causes. 

  • Lack of Vitamin A kills a million infants a year

  • Iron deficiency is the most prevalent form of malnutrition worldwide, affecting an estimated 2 billion people.6 Eradicating iron deficiency can improve national productivity levels by as much as 20 percent.

  • Iron deficiency is impairing the mental development of 40-60 percent children in developing countries

  • Vitamin A deficiency affects approximately 25 percent of the developing world’s pre-schoolers. It is associated with blindness, susceptibility to disease and higher mortality rates. It leads to the death of approximately 1-3 million children each year.

  • Iodine deficiency is the greatest single cause of mental retardation and brain damage. Worldwide, 1.9 billion people are at risk of iodine deficiency, which can easily be prevented by adding iodine to salt

  • WFP-supported deworming reached 10 million children in 2007

There is enough food in the world to feed everyone.
Yet, malnutrition and hunger still afflict one out of every seven people on earth. Why does hunger exist?


Natural disasters such as floods, tropical storms and long periods of drought are on the increase -- with calamitous consequences for food security in poor, developing countries. Drought is now the single most common cause of food shortages in the world. In 2006, recurrent drought caused crop failures and heavy livestock losses in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. In many countries, climate change is exacerbating already adverse natural conditions. For example, poor farmers in Ethiopia or Guatemala traditionally deal with rain failure by selling off livestock to cover their losses and pay for food. But successive years of drought, increasingly common in the Horn of Africa and Central America, are exhausting their resources.



Since 1992, the proportion of short and long-term food crises that can be attributed to human causes has more than doubled, rising from 15 percent to more than 35 percent. All too often, these emergencies are triggered by conflict.

From Asia to Africa to Latin America, fighting displaces millions of people from their homes, leading to some of the world's worst hunger emergencies. Since 2004, conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has uprooted more than a million people, precipitating a major food crisis -- in an area that had generally enjoyed good rains and crops.

In war, food sometimes becomes a weapon. Soldiers will starve opponents into submission by seizing or destroying food and livestock and systematically wrecking local markets. Fields and water wells are often mined or contaminated, forcing farmers to abandon their land.

When conflict threw Central Africa into confusion in the 1990s, the proportion of hungry people rose from 53 percent to 58 percent. By comparision, malnutrition is on the retreat in more peaceful parts of Africa such as Ghana and Malawi.


In developing countries, farmers often cannot afford seed to plant the crops that would provide for their families. Craftsmen lack the means to pay for the tools to ply their trade. Others have no land or water or education to lay the foundations for a secure future.

The poverty-stricken do not have enough money to buy or produce enough food for themselves and their families.

In turn, they tend to be weaker and cannot produce enough to buy more food.

In short, the poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.


In the long-term, improved agricultural output offers the quickest fix for poverty and hunger.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2004 Food Insecurity Report, all the countries that are on track to reach the first Millennium Development Goal have something in common -- significantly better than average agricultural growth.

Yet too many developing countries lack key agricultural infrastructure, such as enough roads, warehouses and irrigation. The results are high transport costs, lack of storage facilities and unreliable water supplies.

All conspire to limit agricultural yields and access to food.
But, although the majority of developing countries depend on agriculture, their governments economic planning often emphasises urban development.


Poor farming practices, deforestation, overcropping and overgrazing are exhausting the Earth's fertility and spreading the roots of hunger.

Increasingly, the world's fertile farmland is under threat from erosion, salination and desertification.

Just as there is no single cause of hunger, there is no single solution. Aid organizations around the world try to prevent and alleviate hunger in a variety of ways, including:

  • Protecting people from famine by giving food to them in emergencies;

  • Reducing poverty by helping poor people find and hold jobs or training them for jobs where they can make money;

  • Providing information to people about the necessity of a well-balanced diet;

  • Making farming more productive so that there will be more food for the world’s growing population.


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