World Hunger Facts: Causes, Effects and Solutions
- This year, nearly 9 million children younger than five years old will die needlessly, more than half from hunger-related causes.1
- Few of these deaths are related to outright starvation, but rather to common illnesses (such as diarrhea, malaria and measles) that move in on vulnerable children whose bodies have been weakened by hunger.2
- Freedom from Hunger concentrates its services in the world's poorest nations, where an overwhelming 32% are moderately to severely stunted—seriously below normal height for one's age.2
- In the developing world, more than 1.4 billion people currently live below the international poverty line, earning less than $1.25 per day.3
- Among this group of poor people, many have problems obtaining adequate, nutritious food for themselves and their families. As a result, 1.02 billion people in the developing world are undernourished. They consume less than the minimum amount of calories essential for sound health and growth.4
- Undernourishment negatively affects people’s health, productivity, sense of hope and overall well-being. A lack of food can stunt growth, slow thinking, sap energy, hinder fetal development and contribute to mental retardation.5
- Economically, the effort of constantly securing food consumes valuable time and energy, allowing poor people less time for work and earning income.4
- Pregnant women and new mothers who breastfeed infants and children are among the most at risk of undernourishment.4
What Causes Chronic Hunger?
Chronic hunger affects more than 925 million people in the world and is, in and of itself, a potentially deadly condition. You may be surprised to learn that it has little to do with food shortages. Global supplies of food far outstrip demand.
Far more people die from causes related to chronic hunger than to famine. Chronically hungry people are exceptionally vulnerable when famine strikes. They have fewer resources to protect themselves and their families and are already living on the margin of survival.
Five things contribute to most of the world's hunger1:
- Poverty: Poor people do not have the resources—whether land, tools or money—needed to grow or buy food on a consistent basis.
- Armed Conflict: War disrupts agricultural production, and governments often spend more on arms than on social programs.
- Environmental Overload: Over-consumption by wealthy nations and rapid population growth in poor nations strain natural resources and make it harder for poor people to feed themselves.
- Discrimination: Lack of access to education, credit and employment—a recipe for hunger—is often the result of racial, gender or ethnic discrimination.
- Lack of Clout: In the final analysis, chronic hunger is caused by powerlessness. People who don't have power to protect their own interests are hungry. The burden of this condition falls most acutely on children, women and elderly people.
The Effects of Chronic Hunger
Chronic hunger—or food insecurity—is as devastating to families, communities and countries as is famine. Chronic hunger claims more victims than famine each year—by far. Effects of chronic hunger include:
- High Infant-Mortality Rates: Malnourished women are more likely to be sick, have smaller babies, and die earlier, resulting in high levels of infant mortality in areas where chronic hunger is a problem. And where infant and child mortality is high, birth rates are also high, locking these communities in a vicious cycle of malnutrition and death.
- Vulnerability to Common Illnesses: More than two million children die every year from dehydration caused by diarrhea. A malnourished child often lacks the strength to survive a severe case of diarrhea.
- Increased Risk of Infection: A malnourished child has a weakened immune system, making the child more vulnerable to infection. Infections cause lack of appetite and further compromise the child's ability to fight off recurrent and lingering infections.
- Acute Vulnerability in Times of Disaster: A community’s poorest families are already living on the edge of survival. Unexpected shocks, such as crop failure, floods, epidemics, locusts or typhoons result in devastation and almost certain death to some members of the family.
- Impediments to Development: Chronic hunger deprives children of the essential proteins, micronutrients and fatty acids they need to grow adequately. Globally, it is estimated that nearly 226 million children are stunted—shorter than they should be. In addition, stunted children score significantly lower on intelligence tests than do normal children.
- Impediments to Economic Growth: For the nearly 67 million children who weigh less than they should due to chronic hunger, completing school is an unlikely reality. Studies have shown that underweight children will probably spend fewer years in school, which, in turn, has a measurable impact on how much they earn in adulthood.
Self-Help Solutions to a Worldwide Problem
Unlike famine or periodic hunger due to war or natural disasters, chronic hunger is a persistent and insidious condition that can affect generations of people in a geographic region. Those living with chronic hunger face a host of problems that go beyond lack of food or money.
To alleviate this condition, efforts must address root causes, be sustainable (that is, programs must pay for themselves), and they must be implemented by local people for the long term. Freedom from Hunger's Credit with Education program is just such a strategy. We are transferring the microfinance program technology we have developed to local people around the world, and they are using it to help end world hunger through their own families and communities.
- Statistics by Area/Child Survival and Health, UNICEF, November 2009
- Statistics by Area/Child Nutrition, UNICEF, November 2009
- Overview: Understanding, measuring, overcoming poverty, World Bank, 2010
- The State of Food Insecurity in the World – Economic crises – impacts and lessons learned. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 2009
- Nutrition Intake and Economic Growth. Studies on the cost of hunger. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, 2003