We've all heard the phrase 'world hunger' — and we know it's a problem. But what is world hunger? Who does it affect? And how can we make a difference?
At its core, world hunger is measured by the number of people who are consistently undernourished and don’t get the recommended calorie intake on a daily basis.
The numbers seem dire, but it's worth noting that we've made significant progress in reducing the number of people who experience chronic food deprivation over the last several decades.
And if we are intentional about it, we can continue to reduce this number until everyone has access to affordable, nutritious food.
How many people are starving in the world?
For the third year in a row, the number of hungry people grew — as of 2017, there were more than 821 million people facing chronic food deprivation.
That’s one in every nine people on the planet.
For example, almost 21 percent of people on the continent of Africa face hunger on a daily basis. Asia has the highest total number of people facing chronic food deprivation at more than 11 percent, representing over 515 million people.
How many world hunger deaths are there per day?
Each day, between 7,750 and 15,345 people die from hunger and malnutrition, according to a 2021 report from Oxfam.
This means as many as 11 people die from hunger each minute. According to the report, this is more than the current global death rate for COVID, which was around 7 people per minute in July of 2021.
These numbers are heartbreaking, but there's an opportunity to make a difference.
The compounding problems behind world hunger
Hunger is more than just having enough food to eat – it’s about having enough nutritious food to eat. A diet without a sufficient intake of calories, proteins, vitamins, and minerals impedes human development at every age.
When kids don't have the nutrition they need to grow physically and mentally, this is sometimes called 'stunting' — and can lead to long-term adverse effects.
In turn, this negatively impacts the health, education, economic and social development of entire communities across the globe.
Additionally, poor nutrition is attributed to 45 percent of deaths in children under the age of five.
Our planet produces enough food to feed the more than 7 billion people who inhabit it, but systemic inequality and economic disparity have led to unbalanced distribution and unequal access.
Why is world hunger a problem?
The primary cause of hunger is:
There are a number of underlying reasons for world hunger — with four being the primary causes.
Millions of people simply cannot afford to either purchase nutritious food, or the land or farming supplies to grow their own.
This can create a devastating cycle: constant hunger leads to low levels of energy and reduced mental & physical functioning, making it difficult to work or learn.
Related: Read the best quotes about eradicating global poverty.
Weather variability and extremes are becoming a key force behind world hunger. The number of climate-related disasters has doubled since the early 1990s.
Chronic food deprivation is significantly worse in regions with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to temperature and rainfall variability.
3. Conflict & Instability
The 2018 Global Report on Food Crises revealed that conflict and instability are the primary culprits behind food insecurity in 18 countries, accounting for 60 percent of the global total.
Conflict impacts both communities and individuals — from infrastructure and land availability, to displacement and inflation of food prices.
4. Economic Instability
A global economic slowdown has caused rising costs and reduced spending, negatively impacting the ability of people in many countries to feed themselves.
Fortunately, there are also many solutions that can help end world hunger:
How to end world hunger:
1. Focus on Women
Women make up 45 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, but routinely face more extreme poverty, less education, and have less access or control over land and resources than their male counterparts.
By closing the gender gap, women can be empowered to feed their families, grow nutritious food, expand their businesses and participate in agricultural markets.
2. Climate Resilience
We need to find ways to strengthen farming systems and livelihoods around the world. In particular, helping vulnerable communities to build resiliency ensures they can cope when emergencies strike.
3. Sustainable Agriculture
We need to rethink the way we grow, share and consume our food. If managed well, our agriculture, forestry, and fisheries can provide enough nutritious food for everyone on the planet — while also generating sustainable incomes and protecting the environment.
Governments, non-governmental organizations, and global leaders across all sectors need to work together to develop new solutions to ensure food security for everyone. And efforts to fight global hunger must go hand-in-hand with those to sustain world peace.
Here are 3 ways each of us can take action to solve world hunger
1. Shop & Eat Local
Shopping the local farmers’ market or growing your own herbs and vegetables is a sustainable, actionable step towards good health and nutrition.
2. Aim for Zero Food Waste
1.3 billion tons of food that goes to waste each year: we can all help that number go down. Cook and share meals with others or compost leftovers.Try out services like Too Good To Go (and check out our review). And explore our entire guide to the problem of food waste and how to make a difference.
3. Donate to Immediate & Long-Term Efforts
When disaster strikes, vulnerable communities around the globe need immediate food and nutrition assistance.
Donate to organizations like World Vision who step in with immediate help, and work to develop long-term solutions.
And while it's true that people around the world are experiencing hunger — it's highly likely some of those people are right in your community, too.
Look up a food bank in your community, and make a one-time — or even better, recurring! — donation to help support their efforts to end food insecurity right where you live.
Is there any good news about world hunger?
USDA predicts global food insecurity will drop to 9% of the world population, down from 19% today
A food security assessment model from the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts global food insecurity will drop by 10 percent by 2029, falling from 19.3 percent of the population in 2019 to 9.2 percent of the population.
The framework includes information on domestic prices, consumer responsiveness to changes in prices and incomes, and food quality differences by income groups for 76 low- and middle-income countries.
The USDA projects the number of food-insecure people to fall from 728 million to 399 million.
The greatest improvement in food security is projected for Asia, where income growth is strong, and the share of the food-insecure population is projected to decline from 13.9 percent of the population in 2019 to 3.5 percent in 2029.
Note: Food security is evaluated for each country by estimating the share of the population unable to reach a caloric target of 2,100 calories per person per day.
These projections show potential improvements assuming favorable income and price trends. The projections do not include predictions of future weather and conflict-induced crises and food shortfalls — constant challenges in some of the most food-insecure countries.