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2014 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, undernutrition.  Both malnutrition and undernutrition refer to not having enough food. 

Malnutrition  (or 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 nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries, representing 15 percent of the population of developing counties. There are 16 million people undernourished in developed countries (FAO 2012).

The number of undernourished people decreased nearly 30 percent in Asia and the Pacific, from 739 million to 563 million, largely due to socio-economic progress in many countries in the region. The prevalence of undernourishment in the region decreased from 23.7 percent to 13.9 percent.

Latin America and the Caribbean also made progress, falling from 65 million hungry in 1990-1992 to 49 million in 2010-2012, while the prevalence of undernourishment dipped from 14.6 percent to 8.3 percent. But the rate of progress has slowed recently.

The number of hungry grew in Africa over the period, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added  in the last few years. Nearly one in four are  hungry. And in sub-Saharan Africa, the modest progress achieved in recent years up to 2007 was reversed, with hunger rising 2 percent per year since then.

Developed regions also saw the number of hungry rise, from 13 million in 2004-2006 to 16 million in 2010-2012, reversing a steady decrease in previous years from 20 million in 1990-1992 (FAO 2012).

The above is based on the new estimates of world hunger by the FAO using revised  proceedures. It is worth noting that the new estimates give a different answer than the old estimates as the graph below shows (Lappe, 2013).

Children and hunger

Children are the most visible victims of undernutrition.  Children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year. Poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year--five million deaths.  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.

According to the most recent estimate that Hunger Notes could find, malnutrition, as measured by stunting, affects 32.5 percent of children in developing countries--one of three (de Onis 2000). Geographically, more than 70 percent of malnourished children live in Asia, 26 percent in Africa and 4 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. In many cases, their plight began even before birth with a malnourished mother. Under-nutrition among pregnant women in developing countries leads to 1 out of 6 infants born with low birth weight. This is not only a risk factor for neonatal deaths, but also causes learning disabilities, mental, retardation, poor health, blindness and premature death.

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. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day  according to the most recent estimate that we could find (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, 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 2008 (2005 statistics), the World Bank has estimated that there were an estimated 1,345 million poor people in developing countries who live on $1.25 a day or less.1 This compares to the later FAO estimate of 1.02 billion undernourished people.  Extreme poverty remains an alarming problem in the world’s developing regions, despite some progress that reduced "dollar--now $1.25-- a day" poverty from (an estimated) 1900 million people in 1981, a reduction of 29 percent over the period. 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 section summarizes Hunger Notes  answer.

Harmful economic systems are the principal cause of poverty and hunger. Hunger Notes believes that the 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. At the end of 2005, the global number of refugees was at its lowest level in almost a quarter of a century. Despite some large-scale repatriation movements, the last three years have witnessed a significant increase in refugee numbers, due primarily to the violence taking place in Iraq and Somalia. By the end of 2008, the total number of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate exceeded 10 million. The number of conflict-induced internally displaced persons (IDPs) reached some 26 million worldwide at the end of the year . Providing exact figures on the number of stateless people is extremely difficult  But, important, (relatively) visible though it is, and anguishing for those involved conflict is less important as poverty (and its causes) as a cause of hunger. (Using the statistics above 1.02 billion people suffer from chronic hunger while 36 million people are displaced [UNHCR 2008])

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?

Progress in reducing the number of hungry people

There are two sets of issues that must be considered in evaluating progress: estimations of hunger, and goals set.

Estimations of hunger.  As indicated above, the two FAO estimations differ.  Specifically, since 1992, the earlier estimate has hunger going up, while the later has hunger going down.

Secondly, how do you evaluate progress—what goals have been set. 

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. The target set by the Millenium  goals was to halve the proportion of hungry people by 2015

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. (FAO uses three year averages in its calculation of undernourished people.)

Progress using the old estimate of world hunger.  The number of undernourished people in developing countries using the old estimate was 824 million in 1990-92. In 2010-2012, the number had increased to 870 million people.  So rather than being cut in half to 420, the number has increased to 870 million. 

Using the new estimates of world hunger, the number of undernourished people was 1 billion in 1990-92 and had decreased to 870 in 2010-12, with the goal 500 million people.

Millenium goal target.  Using the old estimates, there were 824 million hungry people in 1990-92 and the world population was 5,370  million  (US census estimates for 1991).  Thus the proportion was .143 and halving it would be .071.  The current proportion (870 million hungry divided by 2013 world population of 7,095)  is .122.  Thus in 2013 the world is .051 of world population away from reaching this target, or 362 million people.

Using the new estimates, there were 1 billion hungry people  in 1990-92 and and the world population was 5,370  million  (US census estimates for 1991).  Thus the proportion was .18 and halving it would be .09.   The current proportion (870 million hungry divided by 2013 world population of 7,095) is .123.  Thus in 2013,  the world is .033 away, or 234 million people, from reaching this target.

Thus, in summary, the world is from 870 million to 234 million people away from reaching a hunger reduction goal, depending on which goal and which estimate is chosen.  

Micronutrients

Quite a few  trace elements or micronutrients--vitamins and minerals--are important for health. 1 out of 3 people in developing countries are affected by vitamin and mineral deficiencies, according to the World Health Organization. Three, perhaps the most important in terms of health consequences for poor people in developing countries, are:

Vitamin A Vitamin A deficiency  can cause night blindness and reduces the body's resistance to disease. In children Vitamin A deficiency can also cause growth retardation. Between 100 and 140 million children are vitamin A deficient. An estimated 250,000 to 500 000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. (World Health Organization)

Iron Iron deficiency is a principal cause of anemia. Two billion people—over 30 percent of the world’s populationare anemic, mainly due to iron deficiency, and, in developing countries, frequently exacerbated by malaria and worm infections. For children, health consequences include premature birth, low birth weight, infections, and elevated risk of death. Later, physical and cognitive development are impaired, resulting in lowered school performance. For pregnant women, anemia contributes to 20 percent of all maternal deaths (World Health Organization).

Iodine Iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) jeopardize children´s mental health– often their very lives. Serious iodine deficiency during pregnancy may result in stillbirths, abortions and congenital abnormalities such as cretinism, a grave, irreversible form of mental retardation that affects people living in iodine-deficient areas of Africa and Asia. IDD also causes mental impairment that lowers intellectual prowess at home, at school, and at work. IDD affects over 740 million people, 13 percent of the world’s population. Fifty million people have some degree of mental impairment caused by IDD (World Health Organization).

(Updated July 27, 2013)

Footnotes

1. The table  used to calculate this number.

Region % in  $1.25 a day poverty Population (millions) Pop. in $1 a day poverty (millions)
East Asia and Pacific 16.8 1,884 316
Latin America and the Caribbean  8.2 550 45
South Asia 40.4 1,476 596
Sub-Saharan Africa 50.9 763 388
  Total Developing countries 28,8 4673 1345
Europe and Central Asia 0.04 473 17
Middle East and North Africa 0.04 305 11
Total   5451 1372

Source:  See World Bank PovcalNet "Replicate the World Bank's Regional Aggregation" at http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNet/povDuplic.html  (accessed May 7, 2010).  Also see World Bank "PovcalNet" at http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTDEC/EXTRESEARCH/EXTPROGRAMS/EXTPOVRES/EXTPOVCALNET/0,,contentMDK:21867101~pagePK:64168427~piPK:64168435~theSitePK:5280443,00.html

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