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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 concepts and definitions

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 as it increasingly is, undernutrition.  Both malnutrition and undernutrition refer to not having enough food. 

Malnutrition/undernutrition   is a general term that indicates a lack of some or all nutritional elements necessary for human health (Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia).

There are two basic types of malnutrition. 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. This is  the most lethal form of malnutrition/hunger and is the type of malnutrition that is referred to when world hunger is discussed. 

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. 

Take a two-question hunger quiz on this section

Number of hungry people in the world

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014. Almost all the hungry people, 791 million, live in developing countries, representing 13.5 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing counties. There are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries (FAO 2014).

Undernourishment around the world, 1990-2 to 2012-4
Number of undernourished and prevalence (%) of undernourishment

  1990-2 No. 1990-2 % 2012-4 No. 2012-4 %
World 1,014.5 18.7 805.3 11.3
Developed regions 20.4 <5 14.6 <5
Developing regions 994.1 23.4 790.7 14.5
Africa 182.1 27.7 226.7 20.5
  Sub-Saharan Africa 176.0 33.3 214.1 23.8
Asia 742.6 23.7 525.6 12.7
  Eastern Asia 295.2 23.2 161.2 10.8
  South-Eastern Asia 138.0 30.7 63.5 10.3
  Southern Asia 291.7 24.0 276.4 15.8
Latin America & Carib. 68.5 15.3 37.0 6.1
Oceana 1.0 15.7 1.4 14.0

Source: FAO The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 p. 8

Progress in reducing the number of hungry people

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.

 The target set by the Millenium goals was to halve the proportion of hungry people by 2015. This goal will almost be reached. For developing countries as a whole, the goal was to halve the proportion of hungry people from the base year(s) of 1990-2, or from 23.4% to ll.7%.  As the proportion in 2014--one year before the year the goals are supposed to be achieved--is 14.5%, the goal is unlikely to be met, although there has been significant reduction.  As can be seen from the table, East Asia, South East Asia, and Latin America and the Carribbean 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 497 million (1/2 of 994 million), which means that the target will not be reached.

Children and hunger

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.

Stunting

 Wasting and severe wasting ·

Take a three-question hunger quiz on this section

Does the world produce enough food to feed everyone?

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?

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 2015, 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 are a principal cause of poverty and hunger. 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 as a cause of hunger and poverty. 

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, low levels of energy, and even mental impairment, hunger can lead to even greater poverty by reducing people's ability to work and learn, thus leading to even greater hunger.

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.  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?

Micronutrients

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:

Iron

Vitamin A

Iodine

(Updated March, 2015)

Footnotes

Bibliography

Black, Robert E, Cesar G Victora, Susan P Walker, Zulfiqar A Bhutta, Parul Christian, Mercedes de Onis, Majid Ezzati, Sally Grantham-McGregor, Joanne Katz, Reynaldo Martorell, Ricardo Uauy, the Maternal and Child Nutrition Study Group. 2013. Maternal and child undernutrition and overweight in low-income and middle-income countries Lancet Volume 382, No. 9890, p 427–451.   http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2813%2960937-X/abstract  (The article is available free of charge, but you will be required to register with Lancet.)

Black RE, Morris SS, Bryce J. "Where and why are 10 million children dying every year?" Lancet. 2003 Jun 28;361(9376):2226-34.

Black, Robert E, Lindsay H Allen, Zulfiqar A Bhutta, Laura E Caulfield, Mercedes de Onis, Majid Ezzati, Colin Mathers, Juan Rivera, for the Maternal and Child Undernutrition Study Group Maternal and child undernutrition: global and regional exposures and health consequences. (Article access is free but will require registration) The Lancet  Vol. 371, Issue 9608, 19 January 2008, 243-260.

Jennifer Bryce, Cynthia Boschi-Pinto, Kenji Shibuya, Robert E. Black, and the WHO Child Health Epidemiology Reference Group. 2005. "WHO estimates of the causes of death in children." Lancet ; 365: 1147–52.

Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. 2013. "People affected by conflict: Humanitarian needs in numbers."  http://cred.be/sites/default/files/PAC2013.pdf

Food and Agriculture Organization. 2012. FAO Statistical Yearbook 2012 http://www.fao.org/docrep/015/i2490e/i2490e03a.pdf

Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program. 2014. "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014. Strengthening the enabling environment for food security and nutrition."  Rome: FAO http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/2014/en/

International Food Policy Research Institute. 2014. 2014 Global Hunger Index http://www.ifpri.org/book-8018/ourwork/researcharea/global-hunger-index

Oxford University Press. 1971. Oxford English Dictionary. Definition for malnutrition.

UNHCR 2014 "Mid-Year Trends" June 2014 http://www.scribd.com/doc/230536635/UNHCR-Global-Trends-Report-2014#scribd 

UNICEF, WHO, The World Bank. 2014a. "Levels and Trends in Child Malnutrition." http://www.who.int/nutgrowthdb/estimates2013/en/ 

UNICEF-WHO-The World Bank. 2014b Summary of key facts about the 2013 joint malnutrition estimates http://www.who.int/entity/nutgrowthdb/summary_jme_2013.pdf?ua=1 

World Bank. 2015. Poverty website http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty and the Overview page  http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview

World Bank. 2013. "The State of the World's Poor:  Where are the Poor and where are they the Poorest?" http://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/document/State_of_the_poor_paper_April17.pdf

World Health Organization WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition http://www.who.int/nutgrowthdb/en/

World Health Organization Comparative Quantification of Health Risks: Childhood and Maternal Undernutition

World Health Organization.  "Micronutrient Deficiencies" http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/vad/en/

 

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