World Hunger Meaning, Facts, Causes, Importance and Countries

World Hunger is a global condition whereby access to food resources is restricted for a part of the population, leading to deprivation and deficiency.

 Addressing world hunger is one of the main goals of sustainable development.

This article provides an extensive discussion of the essential issues and terms related to world hunger.

-Meaning of Hunger

-Hunger in the World: 62 Facts about World Hunger

-Hunger, Under-nutrition and Malnutrition

-Hunger and Food Insecurity

-Hunger and Conflict

-Hunger and Inequality

-Hunger and Food Wastage

-Hunger and Poverty

-Hunger and the Economy

-Hunger and Climate Change

-Hunger and Forced Migration

-Countries Most Affected by World Hunger in Recent Years





Meaning of Hunger

Hunger can be defined as a desire, or need, for nutrients or food.

By another definition, we may describe hunger as a painful or uncomfortable physical sensation which is caused by a lack of sufficient food.


World Hunger
(Credit: FMSC Distribution Partner, Haiti 2012 .CC BY 2.0.)


The United Nations defines hunger as periods or conditions of severe food insecurity, which may reflect in the form of prolonged periods without food, and may be caused by a lack of resources or access to food [1].

Hunger is considered chronic when it continues over a long period of time, during which the individual may lack access to enough calories to live a healthy and active life.

62 Facts about World Hunger

1). At least 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year around the world. This is roughly one-third of all food that is produced [8]

2). The bulk of food wastage occurs during the production stage. This includes agricultural production, handling and storage. An estimate of 75% of food is believed to be lost at this stage. It implies that the methods of production, harvest and processing need to be improved

3). Some countries are known to waste much more food than others.

In general, the rate of food wastage is higher in countries with higher population numbers, and higher rates of agricultural production and consumption.

Countries in North America, East Asia, Europe and Australia, contribute largely to the overall food wastage on Earth. In some well-developed countries, there is less wastage due the use of more efficient agricultural technologies

4). Up to 1.6 million tons of food is wasted yearly by retailers. Such food is usually rejected because it may not be aesthetically pleasing for customers

5). The majority of wasted food products are fruits and vegetables.

At least 48% of fruits and vegetables are wasted before they can reach the consumer. Also, about 44% of sea foods are wasted before they can reach the consumer. This wastage is due to poor production, harvest, storage and processing practices, as well as commercial selection

6). A significant percentage of food wastage is caused by young people.

This category includes individuals between the ages of 18 and 24. Also, families with high income levels, waste much more food than the lower income families

7). Conservative labels (‘used by’ and ‘best before’) are responsible for the wastage of a large volume of food products which are actually within date and are safe for consumption. Such wasted food products amount to about £1 billion annually in the UK

8). Each year, food worth at least $750 billion is wasted around the world. It is predicted that food wastage will rise by about 33 percent in coming years

9). Addressing food wastage will be an effective way to reduce the prevalence of hunger and food insecurity on Earth. It has been estimated that $30 billion dollars can be used to tackle food insecurity around the world. This is much less than the value of food which is wasted globally per year

20). Food waste produces at least 30 percent of greenhouse gases which are emitted into the atmosphere. These gases are primarily methane and carbon dioxide, which form while the food waste is being decomposed

21). In a per Capita basis, the United States wastes the highest amount of food in the world. On the average, each individual in the United States wastes 95.1kg of food per year. It is also estimated that up to 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted

22). The highest volume of food waste is produced in India; and this amounts to about 57 million tons of food annually. In the United States. about 49.7 million tons of food is wasted per year

23). The United Kingdom is one of the highest food waste producers on the European continent, with a waste volume of about 26.082 tons daily. Reasons for food wastage in the United Kingdom include delay in consumption, commercial selection, and inefficient processing or consumption

24). Food wastage in Australia amounts to about 4 million tons per year. Most of this food material is discarded before it is processed or has reached the consumer

25). Landfill waste in the United States is dominated by food materials, which make up to 24 percent of all waste that is discarded in landfills. This shows the high rate of food wastage in the country

26). About 50 percent of all food waste on Earth is produced in Asia. In China, the volume of food which is wasted, is sufficient to feed at least 100 million people. Most of this is lost before it reaches the consumer, including about 40 percent of all produced vegetables and 30 percent of grains

27). Patterns of food wastage vary between developed and under-developed countries. In under-developed countries, most of food wastage occurs at the production and processing stages, due to inefficient agricultural methods and technologies.

On the other hand, in developed countries. most of food wastage occurs at the point of marketing and consumption, due to preferences of retailers and consumers

28). Up to 500 million tons of food is lost per year as a result of pests and diseases at the production stage. Other causes of food wastage at this stage are poor planting, irrigation, and harvesting methods

29). Transport of food produce can also be a cause of food wastage. This is especially due to inconvenient conditions of transport that destroy food produce, and it mostly affects fruits and vegetables that are sensitive to temperature and humidity

30). Food prices and purchasing policies contribute greatly to food wastage

31). The countries which produce the most food on Earth include Brazil, the United States, India and China

32). About 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced by food waste around the world, on a yearly basis

33). A large volume of water is also wasted in the process of food production. This amounts to about 3.8 trillion m3 of water per year. Nearly 50 percent of all usable land on Earth is also used for agricultural purposes

34). The energy which is consumed in the course of food production, is at least 7 times as much as the energy which is produced in the process. This is a major concern with respect to Climate Change, since the major source of energy for agricultural production is fossil fuels

35). Fertilizer production, which is essential for agriculture, consumes about 3 to 5 percent of natural gas on Earth

36). The use of irrigation practices increases the production of food, while also increases the production of food waste. Around the world, up to 40 percent of all food produced is supported by irrigation. This implies that food production involves a high level of water consumption as well. Poor irrigation practices are also a known cause of food wastage

37). Although compositing is a potentially effective way of managing food waste, only a very small percentage of food waste is turned into compost

38). A large percentage of food waste is discarded into the oceans. This produces greenhouse gases and toxins that are harmful to the ecosystem

39). The imbalance in the production and availability of food leads to food insecurity and hunger in several parts of the world. An estimate of about 795 million people are affected globally.

Africa is seriously affected by hunger and food insecurity. Infrastructural challenges and climate change both contribute to the exposure of about 19 percent of the entire African population to food shortages.

In some countries where food is wasted in large volumes, hunger and food insecurity remain a problem. For example, up to 54 million people are estimated to have limited access to food in the United States. This number is about 8.4 million in the UK. Causes include food wastage and economic challenges

40). At the current rate, it is unlikely that the world will achieve the sustainable development goal to end hunger and food shortages by the year 2030.

Rather, estimates predict that at least 840 million people will be exposed to food insecurity and hunger by 2030

41). Similarly, it is unlikely that the target to reduce the rate of stunting and low birth-weight in children, by the year 2030, will be achieved

Measures which can be taken to achieve this target include reducing food insecurity rate and developing sustainable methods of agriculture

42). The effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on food insecurity around the world have been generally negative. This is mainly due to the fact that income levels have been reduced, and the rate of production has declined as well

43). Economic decline has made it difficult for people to afford a healthy diet.

44). As food insecurity and malnutrition become more prominent, cases of obesity or overweight are also on the increase

45). Reducing food wastage will reduce hunger and food insecurity, while supporting the economy in order for more people to be able to afford quality food

46). More than enough food is produced every year to feed the entire human population. In spite of this, up to 16.6 percent of the population are exposed to undernourishment

47). About 957 million people around the world are not able to access quality food on a consistent basis. This us caused partly by poverty, which affects at least 1 billion people worldwide

48). A major cause of food insecurity and hunger is social conflict. At the same time, conflict leads to the worsening of hunger and food insecurity.

49). Up to 70 percent of all food produced globally, is produced by small herders, fishermen and farmers. Yet these individuals are most vulnerable to food insecurity

50). Up to 45 percent of child deaths worldwide are caused by hunger and undernourishment

51). Yearly, at least 3.1 million child deaths occur due to causes related to hunger and malnutrition

52). Up to one-eight of the overall Asian population are exposed to hunger. This is the same percentage of the overall number of families in America who are exposed to hunger

53). There has been a fall in the number of people affected by undernourishment in the world, by at least 6 percent over the last ten years

54). Over 11 percent of the total human population on Earth is faced with hunger. This includes at least 800 million undernourished people

55). Countries which have been successful at reducing the prevalence of hunger within their populations include Brazil, Georgia, Armenia, Cuba, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Ghana, Thailand, Saint Vincent and Grenadines

56). About 7.5 million children around the world died in the year 2010 [3]. Up to 50 percent of these deaths was caused at least partly by poor nutrition

57). Nearly one-fifteenth of all children in developing countries die before the age of five. mostly due to hunger-related problems

58). Between the years 1990 and 2014, the world has experienced a 42 percent drop in the number of undernourished people [13]

59). More than one-fourth of the undernourished population on Earth occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa [6]

60). About 300,000 to 315,000 women die every year as a result of hemorrhaging during child birth. The primary cause of this is nutrient deficiency

61). There is a gender imbalance in the occurrence of hunger on Earth, with up to 60 percent of the hungry population being women

62). The number of deaths caused by hunger every year exceeds that caused by Malaria, Tuberculosis and AIDS combined

World Hunger, Under-nutrition and Malnutrition

Hunger is a broad term which represents the distress and other sensational outcomes that result from the lack of food.

It can be measured or detected in terms of the amount of calories that are consumed by an individual, whereby less than 1,800 calories consumed in a day is equivalent to a state of food deprivation and hunger.

Both Under-nutrition and Malnutrition are potential causes of hunger. Under-nutrition, as the term implies, relates to a condition of insufficient supply of nutrients to the body. These nutrients would include vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and proteins.

Malnutrition refers to any condition of abnormal supply of nutrients to the body. It may be either in the form of insufficient supply (under-nutrition) or excessive supply (over-nutrition).

The following table provides a simple comparison between the three terns (Hunger, Under-nutrition and Malnutrition);

Hunger Under-nutrition Malnutrition
Is used to describe the distress caused by lack of adequate food or nutrients Is used to describe the lack of adequate food or nutrients (which may lead to hunger) Refers to any abnormality in the supply of food and/or nutrients
Is defined in terms of available calories Is defined in terms of calories and nutrients Defined in terms of under-supply or over-supply of calories and nutrients

World Hunger and Food Insecurity

The relationship between hunger and food insecurity is a cause-and-effect relationship.

Here, food insecurity serves as the underlying cause, while hunger is the effect. Hunger itself is seen as an indicator of problems that may include food insecurity.

Compared to hunger, food insecurity is a fairly broad term, that describes the lack of access to adequate food, and covers other concepts like obesity, under-nutrition, food deficiency and related illnesses, and malnutrition.

World Hunger and Conflict

As earlier stated, the world is falling short of the goal to achieve zero hunger in our society.

This can be proved by the rising numbers of people exposed to malnutrition and food shortages around the world. At least 155 million people experienced acute food insecurity in the year 2020, with nearly 30 million facing the threat of imminent starvation [15].

The main factor behind these issues was violent conflict, which is equally on the rise in several parts of the world [16]. Hunger and conflict can be seen to go hand-in-hand, in regions like the Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Conflict is a cause and effect of hunger and food insecurity. As a cause, it leads to the destruction of farmlands and markets, and the mass displacement of people from their settlements. This in turn leads to inflation of food prices, decline in agricultural production, and crop failure.

As an effect, conflict and war are known to arise as a result of the lack of resources, which includes food. Economic recession causes inflation in the agricultural sector and reduces the accessibility of food materials to the human population, causing unrest and violence in most cases.

In parts of the world where violent conflicts occur, hunger is often used as a means of subduing the enemy. This includes deliberate measures to destroy food-producing outlets and markets, shut down agricultural industries, destroy infrastructure, and cut off access to food relief supplies.


Hunger and Inequality

Inequality refers to variations in the distribution of resources, privileges or rights across the human population. It may also be seen as an imbalance in the availability and accessibility of a commodity.

Inequality comes in different forms, and may be either Economic, Educational, Gender-based, Institutional, or Social.

Hunger and inequality are closely related. We can observe this in the uneven distribution in the access to food by people across the world. In some areas, including especially the developed countries, food is produced in excessive quantity, leading to massive food wastage [9]. This is not the case in most of the developing and under-developed countries, where food shortages are very rampant.

Additionally, even within the developed regions where food is wasted, many families and individuals are still exposed to food insecurity, malnutrition and hunger. We can cite good examples of this fact in the United Kingdom and the United States [4].

The cause of these occurrences is inequality, which creates a variation in the access to food across the population. Patterns of unequal fold access have been observed between high-income individuals and their low-income counterparts. Economic inequality makes it difficult for a vast number of people to be able to afford adequate food and nutrients.

Gender inequality causes differences in the rights to agricultural land ownership between men and women, as well as differences in economic and financial stability [17]. Tackling hunger from this perspective must involve measures to reduce the prevalence and the effects of inequality, in all its forms in our society.

World Hunger and Food Wastage

As we have stated in the facts section of this article, food wastage is related to hunger and malnutrition.

The amount of food wasted on Earth shows that world hunger is not the result of a lack of food. Enough food for the entire human population is produced on a yearly basis around the world, however, one-third of this food is wasted.

Food wastage is more prominent in the developed countries, and worldwide, it amounts to approximately $1 trillion dollars’ worth of food which is lost per year. Conserving food resources will help to provide more food than is required to feed the undernourished population on Earth.

Additionally, food wastage contributes to world hunger by producing large volumes of gaseous carbon; a greenhouse gas which is then emitted into the atmosphere [10]. Methane is also produced as a result of the decomposition of food waste.

The disposal of large volumes of food waste into landfills is a major cause of the release of these gases as the food waste decays.

At least 3 billion tons of greenhouse gases are emitted from food waste into the atmosphere each year [7].

This causes the greenhouse effect, which in turn leads to Global Warming and Climate Change, that affect crop production and result in food insecurity and world hunger

Soil and water resources are being exhausted due to the production of excessive amount of food in some parts of the world.

This includes large volumes of water used for irrigation, and soils whose capacity is stretched with the application of artificial soil enhancement methods.

Ultimately, most of the food produced is wasted, thereby placing further strain on the environment to produce more food.

World Hunger and Poverty

Poverty is known to be closely related to world hunger and undernourishment.

People who live below the poverty line (on less than $1.25 per day) are often unable to afford quality or adequate food especially when prices rise, leading to hunger.

Conversely, hunger and undernourishment have a negative effect on health, and thereby reduce people’s ability to work and earn a living.

Most countries where hunger is prevalent, are also riddled with poverty. An example is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a vast majority of the population survive on less than $1.25/day [2].

World hunger can be viewed as an indicator of the growing prevalence of extreme poverty within the human population on Earth.

This has influenced international agencies to form various alliances to combat poverty. It has also influenced the first goal of Sustainable Development by the United Nations, which is to “End Poverty in all its form everywhere” [5].

World Hunger and the Economy

While economic challenges are known to correlate with world hunger; hunger itself tends to have a negative effect on the economy.

In order to end world hunger by 2030, the United Nations in 2015 estimated a required cost of at least $267 billion [14]. Nutritional deficiency also impacts negatively on the economic resilience of a country. This means that the problem of world hunger must be addressed if we are to eliminate economic recession in our society, and vice versa

Children and Adults who are exposed to hunger are more likely to fall sick and to require medical attention. This implies health care cost.

Globally, it is estimated that illnesses related to food insecurity and hunger lead to expenses worth at least $130.5 billion [11]. Other economic costs that are incurred due to hunger include the costs of charitable contributions and low economic productivity, among others.


World Hunger and Climate Change

In low-income countries where there is a deficiency of available infrastructure to reduce the severity of its effects, Climate Change is a major problem that affects the human population and the environment. In line with this, severe weather events such as flooding; drought and hurricanes, tend to have devastating effects on life as well as crop production.

Due to drought, for example; soils lose their moisture as well as most of their nutrients that are required in order for crops to grow. The security of food supply thereby becomes low, increasing the risk of hunger and its related challenges. This is the same with flooding and other effects of climate change.

The presence of large volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is another feature of climate change. This gas tends to reduce the nutritional value of crops [12]. It also increases the prospect of acid rain, which may damage crops and limit their yield.

World Hunger and Forced Migration

By the middle of the year 2021; there were more than 84 million forcibly displaced people in the world, in addition to at least 48 million internally displaced persons (displaced within the borders of their own country).

While there are various causes of forced migration (including conflict and climate change), it is clear that this phenomenon is closely related to climate change.

Mass migration may be caused by the prospect of hunger itself. Because it is a life-threatening condition, hunger usually plays a key role in the decision-making process of people who flee or migrate from their homes and countries.

There are different ways to observe the correlation between world hunger and forced migration.

For example, up to 90 percent of countries having the highest numbers of internally displaced people, are faced with food insecurity challenges.

Large migrant populations place a huge strain on the resources of their host countries and communities, thereby increasing the risk of exposure to hunger.


Countries Most Affected by Hunger in Recent Years

The Global Hunger Index lists the following countries as the 30 most affected countries in terms of hunger, over the course of the year 2021;

Country Hunger Index
Somalia 50.8
Yemen 45.1
Central African Republic (C.A.R) 43.0
Chad 39.6
Democratic Republic of Congo 39.0
Madagascar 36.3
Liberia 33.3
Haiti 32.8
Timor-Leste 32.4
Sierra-Leone 31.3
Mozambique 31.3
Republic of Congo 30.3
Nigeria 28.3
Afghanistan 28.3
Papua New Guinea 27.8
India 27.5
Lesotho 27.4
Djibouti 27.4
Rwanda 26.4
Angola 26.0
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 25.2
Sudan 25.1
Tanzania 24.7
Pakistan 24.7
Mali 24.6
Burkina Faso 24.5
Ethiopia 24.1
Togo 23.7
Botswana 23.2
Kenya 23.0


Looking at the above table, it is important for us to note that these countries share a few characteristics in common, which are all related to hunger. We may consider these characteristics to be the causes or indicators of world hunger, which we have already discussed. They include;



-Economic Recession,

-Climate Change and Severe Weather Events

-Natural Hazards


-Food Insecurity

-Forced Migration



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2). Beurden, S.V. (2017). “A New Congo Crisis.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

3). Black, B.; Liu, L.; and Lawn, J. (2012). “In 2010 over 7.5 million children died before their 5th birthday: 3.1 million were newborns.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

4). Cabrera, Y. (2020). “The UK Is Winning on Food Waste. Are We?” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

5). Cristell (2021). “Sustainable Development Goal: End Poverty in all its form everywhere.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

6). FAO (2014). “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

7). FAO (2021). “Food wastage: Key facts and figures.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

8). Hancock, E. (2021). “Food Wastage: 60+ Important Stats and Facts.” Available at: (Accessed 24 December 2021).

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10). Kaplan. S. (2021). “A third of all food in the U.S. gets wasted. Fixing that could help fight climate change.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

11). Lee, J. S. (2013). “Food Insecurity and Healthcare Costs: Research Strategies Using Local, State, and National Data Sources for Older Adults.” Adv Nutr.; 4(1): 42–50. Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

12). McMillan, F. (2018). “Rising CO2 Is Reducing The Nutritional Value Of Our Food.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

13). The Borgen Project (2017). “STRIVING TO END WORLD HUNGER: 20 KEY FACTS.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

14). United Nations (2015). “Combining social protection with pro-poor investments can eradicate world hunger by 2030 – UN.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

15). United Nations (2021). “155 million faced acute food insecurity in 2020, conflict the key driver.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

16). WHO (2017). “World hunger again on the rise, driven by conflict and climate change, new UN report says.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

17). World Bank (2019). “Women in Half the World Still Denied Land, Property Rights Despite Laws.” Available at: (Accessed 25 December 2021).

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