Interactive hunger map
Missing or insufficient data
People who are chronically hungry are undernourished. They don’t eat enough to get the energy they need to lead active lives. Their undernourishment makes it hard to study, work or otherwise perform physical activities. Undernourishment is particularly harmful for women and children. Undernourished children do not grow as quickly as healthy children. Mentally, they may develop more slowly. Constant hunger weakens the immune system and makes them more vulnerable to diseases and infections. Mothers living with constant hunger often give birth to underweight and weak babies, and are themselves facing increased risk of death.
Every day, millions of people around the world eat only the bare minimum of food to keep themselves alive. Every night, they go to bed not certain whether there will be enough food to eat tomorrow. This uncertainty about where the next meal will come from is called ‘food insecurity’. FAO defines food insecurity as:
“A situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life.”
On average, a person needs about 1800 kcal per day as a minimum energy intake.
Three main groups are most at risk of hunger: the rural poor, the urban poor, and victims of catastrophes.
The rural poor
The majority of the people who don’t have enough to eat live in poor, rural communities in developing countries. Many have no electricity and no safe drinking water. Public health, education and sanitation services are often of low quality.
The world’s most food-insecure and hungry people are often directly involved in producing food. They cultivate crops on small plots of land. They raise animals. They catch fish. They do what they can to provide food for their families or earn money at the local produce market.
Many have no land of their own and work as hired hands to earn enough money to get by. Often the work is seasonal, and the family must move or split up to earn a living.
It is hard work and it is difficult to set anything aside in case of an emergency. Even when there is enough food, the threat of hunger is always present.
The urban poor
The urban poor constitute another group that is at risk of hunger. They produce little or no food and frequently lack the means to buy food. Cities are expanding constantly. In the year 2000, nearly two billion people lived in cities; by 2030, this figure will have more than doubled. As the cities expand, and as more people will migrate from rural to urban areas, the number of the urban poor will rise. Urban hunger and access to affordable food in cities will therefore be increasingly important issues.
Victims of catastrophes
Every year floods, droughts, earthquakes and other natural disasters as well as armed conflicts cause widespread destruction and force families to abandon their homes and farms. Victims of catastrophes are often faced with the threat not just of hunger but of outright starvation.
FAO measures hunger as the number of people who do not consume the minimum daily energy requirement, which is the amount of calories needed for light activity and a minimum acceptable weight for attained height. This varies by sex and age, not surprisingly. To calculate these numbers, FAO collects three sets of data:
- Data on production, imports and exports of all food commodities, along with the calorie content of each food. These data are used to calculate total availability of calories in the country.
- Data on population structure in terms of age and sex, since different age and sex groups have different minimum caloric requirements. Using these data, one can estimate the total caloric requirements for the entire population as an aggregate. This varies from country to country because of different population structures.
- Household survey data. These are used to estimate the country-specific distribution of calories. Some countries may have more equal distributions of calories than other countries, which, other things being equal, would lead to fewer people being undernourished. A log normal distribution of caloric intake is assumed.
From the total calories available, total calories needed for a given population, and the distribution of calories, one can calculate the number of people who are below the minimum energy requirement, and this is the number of undernourished people. This number is then summed for all countries in the world. Thus, no account is taken of protein, vitamin or mineral intake.
FAO hunger statistics go back to the period 1969-1971, when 878 million people were recorded as hungry. Earlier statistics are based on a different methodology and are thus not comparable. Over the past 40 years, the number of hungry people remained above 800 million. After some successes in reducing world hunger, undernourishment increased continuously between 1995-1997 and 2009, with a significant spike in 2009 following the economic and financial crisis.
The world currently produces enough food for everybody, but many people do not have access to it.
There is ample evidence that rapid progress to reduce hunger can be made by applying a twin-track strategy that tackles both the causes and the consequences of extreme poverty and hunger. Track one includes interventions to improve food availability and incomes of the poor by enhancing their productive activities. Track two features targeted programmes that give the most needy families direct and immediate access to food.
Simultanenously, a global food system needs better governance at national and international level. In food insecure countries, institutions are needed based on the principles of the Right to Adequate Food. These should promote transparency and accountability, the empowerment of the poor and their participation in the decisions that affect them.
There are two main hunger targets: the World Food Summit target and Goal 1 of the Millennium Development Goals.
The 1996 World Food Summit target
World leaders attending the World Food Summit in Rome committed to cutting by half the number of undernourished people in the world by no later than 2015. FAO uses the average of the period 1990–92 (around 850 million people) as the baseline for monitoring progress towards this target. The World Food Summit target is thus to reduce the number of hungry to around 425 million by 2015.
The Millennium Development Goals
At the 2000 Millennium Summit held at UN headquarters in New York, world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to reducing hunger. Goal 1 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) calls for a reduction by half of the proportion of people suffering from hunger between 1990 and 2015. Rather than setting a definite number to be reached, this hunger objective therefore depends on the size of the future world population.
Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts. All people at all times should have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
FAO's mandate is to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy. In order to achieve these ambitions goals, FAO provides assistance to help people and nations help themselves. If a community wants to increase crop yields but lacks the technical skills, FAO provides simple, sustainable tools and techniques. When a country shifts from state to private land ownership, FAO provides legal advice to smooth the way. When a drought pushes already vulnerable groups to the point of famine, FAO mobilizes necessary action. In a complex world of competing needs, finally, FAO provides a neutral meeting place and the necessary background knowledge to reach consensus.
The result of prolonged low levels of food intake and/or low absorption of food consumed. Generally applied to energy (or protein and energy) deficiency, but it may also relate to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The status of persons, whose food intake regularly provides less than their minimum energy requirements.
The average minimum energy requirement per person is about 1800 kcal per day. The exact requirement is determined by a person’s age, body size, activity level and physiological conditions such as illness, infection, pregnancy and lactation.
A broad term for a range of conditions that hinder good health, caused by inadequate or unbalanced food intake or from poor absorption of food consumed. It refers to both undernutrition (food deprivation) and overnutrition (excessive food intake in relation to energy requirements).
Exists when all people at all times have both physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
Exists when people lack access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food, and therefore are not consuming enough for an active and healthy life. This may be due to the unavailability of food, inadequate purchasing power, or inappropriate utilization at household level.
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