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2015 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics
World Hunger Education Service
(Also see World Child Hunger Facts)
This fact sheet is divided into the following sections:
Hunger is a term which has three meanings (Oxford English Dictionary 1971)
World hunger refers to the second definition, aggregated to the world level. The related technical term (in this case operationalized in medicine) is either malnutrition, or, if malnutrition is taken to refer to both undernutrition and overnutrition (obesity, overweight) as it increasingly is, undernutrition. Both malnutrition and undernutrition refer to the effects on people of not having enough food.
There are two basic types of malnutrition/undernutrition. The first and most important is protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). It is basically a lack of calories and protein. Food is converted into energy by humans, and the energy contained in food is measured by calories. Protein is necessary for key body functions including provision of essential amino acids and development and maintenance of muscles. Protein-energy malnutriton is the more lethal form of malnutrition/hunger and is the type of malnutrition that is referred to when world hunger is discussed. This leads to growth failure. Principal types of growth failure are:
The second type of malnutrition, also very important, is micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency. This is not the type of malnutrition that is referred to when world hunger is discussed, though it is certainly very important. Specific examples of micronutrient deficiency such as Vitamin A are discussed below. (For more examples see UNICEF Nutrition in Emergencies Lesson 2.1 p 11 and for a good overview of malnutriton topics see all of Lesson 2.)
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016. Almost all the hungry people, 780 million, live in developing countries, representing 12.9 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing counties. There are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries (FAO 2014; for individual country estimates, see Annex 1. For other valuable sources, especially if interested in particular countries or regions, see IFPRI 2015 and Rosen 2014).
Undernourishment around the world, 1990-2 to 2012-4
Number of undernourished and prevalence (%) of undernourishment
|1990-2 No.||1990-2 %||2014-6 No.||2014-6 %|
|Latin America & Carib.||66.1||14.7||34.3||5.5|
Source: FAO The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 p. 8
The vast majority of hungry people live in developing regions, which saw a 42 percent reduction in the prevalence of undernourished people between 1990–92 and 2012–14. Despite this progress, about one in eight people, or 13.5 percent of the overall population, remain chronically undernourished in these regions, down from 23.4 percent in 1990–92. As the most populous region in the world, Asia is home to two out of three of the world’s undernourished people.
2015 marks the end of the monitoring period for the two internationally agreed targets for hunger reduction. The target for the Millennium Development Goals for developing countries as a whole was to halve the proportion of hungry people by 2015 from the base year(s) of 1990-2, or from 23.2% to ll.6%. As the proportion in 2014-16 is 12.9%, the goal has almost been met. As can be seen from the table, East Asia, South East Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean regions have met the goal.
World Food Summit target. The target set at the 1996 World Food Summit was to halve the number of undernourished people by 2015 from their number in 1990-92. Since 1990–92, the number of hungry people in developing regions has fallen by over 200 million, from 991 million to 790.7 million. However the goal is 495 million (1/2 of 991 million), which means that the target will not be reached.
(Source: FAO et al, 2015 pp 8-12)
Children are the most visible victims of undernutrition. Black et al (2013) estimate that undernutrition in the aggregate—including fetal growth restriction, stunting, wasting, and deficiencies of vitamin A and zinc along with suboptimum breastfeeding—is a cause of 3·1 million child deaths annually or 45% of all child deaths in 2011 (Black et al. 2013). Undernutrition magnifies the effect of every disease, including measles and malaria. The estimated proportions of deaths in which undernutrition is an underlying cause are roughly similar for diarrhea (61%), malaria (57%), pneumonia (52%), and measles (45%) (Black 2003, Bryce 2005). Malnutrition can also be caused by diseases, such as the diseases that cause diarrhea, by reducing the body's ability to convert food into usable nutrients.
Wasting and severe wasting ·
Quite a few trace elements or micronutrients—vitamins and minerals—are important for health. Three very important micronutrient deficiencies in terms of health consequences for poor people in developing countries are:
The world produces enough food to feed everyone. For the world as a whole, per capita food availability has risen from about 2220 kcal/person/day in the early 1960s to 2790 kcal/person/day in 2006-08, while developing countries even recorded a leap from 1850 kcal/person/day to over 2640 kcal/person/day. This growth in food availability in conjunction with improved access to food helped reduce the percentage of chronically undernourished people in developing countries from 34 percent in the mid 1970s to just 15 percent three decades later. (FAO 2012, p. 4) The principal problem is that many people in the world still do not have sufficient income to purchase (or land to grow) enough food.
What are the causes of hunger is a fundamental question, with varied answers.
Poverty is the principal cause of hunger. The causes of poverty include poor people's lack of resources, an extremely unequal income distribution in the world and within specific countries, conflict, and hunger itself. As of 2015 (2011 statistics), the World Bank has estimated that there were just over 1 billion poor people in developing countries who live on $1.25 a day or less. This compares with compared with 1.91 billion in 1990, and 1.93 billion in 1981. This means that 17 percent of people in the developing world lived at or below $1.25 a day in 2011, down from 43 percent in 1990 and 52 percent in 1981. (This compares with the FAO estimate above of 791 million people living in chronic undernourishment in developing countries.) Progress has been slower at higher poverty lines. In all, 2.2 billion people lived on less than US $2 a day in 2011, the average poverty line in developing countries and another common measurement of deep deprivation. That is only a slight decline from 2.59 billion in 1981. (World Bank Poverty Overview, World Bank 2013). Progress in poverty reduction has been concentrated in Asia, and especially, East Asia, with the major improvement occurring in China. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people in extreme poverty has increased. The statement that 'poverty is the principal cause of hunger' is, though correct, unsatisfying. Why then are (so many) people poor? The next sections summarize Hunger Notes' answer.
Harmful economic systems. Hunger Notes believes that a principal underlying cause of poverty and hunger is the ordinary operation of the economic and political systems in the world. Essentially control over resources and income is based on military, political, and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do. We have described the operation of this system in more detail in our special section on Harmful economic systems.
Conflict. For 2012, the first and latest year for which its estimates are available, the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) estimates that more than 172 million people were affected by conflict worldwide. Of this total 149 million or 87 percent were conflict-affected residents (CARs). Internally displaced persons (IDPs) accounted for another 18 million and refugees for five million. CRED says that the global total is higher because its figures only include 24 countries for which comparable and validated data are available. CRED observes
The estimated number of conflict-affected residents (172 million) represents 21 percent of the estimated number of undernourished people (805 million), which gives an approximate idea of the importance of conflict as a cause of hunger.
Hunger is also a cause of poverty, and thus of hunger. By causing poor health, small body size, low levels of energy, and reductions in mental functioning, hunger can lead to even greater poverty by reducing people's ability to work and learn, thus leading to even greater hunger. See Victoria et al. 2008.
World population A large world population does make it more difficult to provide a decent standard of living for all. Population growth rates have dropped substantially over the last 50 years. See Population Reference Bureau 2014 for analysis of population trends.
Food and agricultural policy. There certainly have been questions raised about the adequacy of food and agricultural policy throughout the world, especially their (lack of) benefit to poor farmers. For two souces that discuss these issues, see IFPRI 2014a and Institute for Development Studies HANCI.
Climate change. Climate change is increasingly viewed as a current and future cause of hunger and poverty. Increasing drought, flooding, and changing climatic patterns requiring a shift in crops and farming practices that may not be easily accomplished are three key issues. Another key issue is the future of industrialization and higher standards of living, as the principal cause of climate change appears carbon dioxide produced by high energy use with industrialization and higher standards of living. See the Hunger Notes special report: Hunger, the environment, and climate change for further information, especially articles in the section: Climate change, global warming and the effect on poor people such as Global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year, study says and Could food shortages bring down civilization?
(Updated November 25, 2015)
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