• Abdul-Qudus Oyekanmi

Hunger: Facts, the Global Hunger Index 2020, and Ways to Solve World Hunger

Children holding rice.
Children holding rice. (Getty Images)

After decades of steady decline, global hunger has slowly increased since 2015. An estimated 821 million people in the world went hungry in 2018. If nothing changes, the immense challenge of reaching the zero-hunger target by 2030 will not be achieved. At the same time, overweight and obesity will continue to increase in all regions of the world.

How quickly the world market for food can change can be observed in the mid-2000s. For two decades, up to the turn of the millennium, global demand for food had grown steadily, as had global population growth, record harvest, new technologies, improved incomes, and diet diversification.

Food prices continued to decline through 2000. However, in 2004 the prices of most grains began to rise. The rising production could not keep pace with the even stronger growth in demand. The food supplies were running low. And then, in 2005, food supplies came under pressure from disappointing harvests in major food-producing countries. By 2006, global grain production had fallen by 2.1 percent. In 2007, rapid oil price hikes increased the cost of making fertilizers and other foods.

When international food prices reached unprecedented levels, countries looked for ways to protect themselves from potential food shortages and price shocks. Several food-exporting countries imposed export restrictions. Some large importers began to buy grain at all costs to maintain domestic supplies. However, it also showed that the global economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 undermined food security in many countries. Hunger has increased in many countries where economies have slowed or declined, particularly in middle-income countries.

Here are the facts you should know about global hunger and nutrition:

1. 11.3% of the world's population are hungry. That's roughly 805 million people who are malnourished every day and consuming less than the recommended 2,100 calories a day.

2. The world produces enough food to feed all 7 billion people, but those who starve either have no land to grow food or no money to buy.

3. 10 countries that have had the greatest success in reducing the total number of starving people relative to their national populations are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Cuba, Georgia, Ghana, Kuwait, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Thailand, and Venezuela.

4. Poverty is the main cause of hunger. Causes of poverty are a lack of resources for poor people, unequal income distribution, and conflicts.

5. An estimated 7.6 million children died in 2010 - more than 20,000 a day. Poor diet plays a role in at least half of these deaths.

6. Almost 98% of world hunger is in underdeveloped countries.

7. Almost 1 in 15 children in developing countries die before the age of 5; most of them starve to death.

8. While there is hunger worldwide, there are 526 million hungry people in Asia.

9. Over a quarter of the world's malnourished people live in sub-Saharan Africa. Almost every fourth person in this region is chronically hungry.

10. If a mother is malnourished during pregnancy, the baby is often born malnourished. 17 million children are born in this way every year because the mother is insufficiently nourished before and during pregnancy.

11. Hungry women also lack basic nutrients (such as iron). 315,000 people die each year from bleeding during childbirth.

Here, according to the 2020 Global Hunger Index, are the current top 10 hungriest countries:

10. Nigeria

Nigeria has the world's highest under-5 mortality rate (12%) after Somalia. However, this is not a single figure for the country's large and diverse population, which illustrates the factor that inequality plays in the hunger crisis and serves as a good reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to reducing food insecurity. In the state of Kebbi, where 66% of children are stunted, the death rate rises to 25%. In other states like Lagos and Bayelsa, this death rate drops to just under 3%.

What is striking are the differences between the best and the worst performers for each indicator in the Global Hunger Index. While there is some overlap in terms of the states facing the greatest struggle, according to various indicators (particularly in the north of the country where violence has increased in recent years), it is also clear that the explanation of the problem by type varies from state to state.

9. Afghanistan

Afghanistan recently experienced the worst drought in decades caused by the effects of La Niña. The effects subsided in 2019, but the ongoing conflicts over climate and livelihood crises illustrate the intersection of hunger. As the World Food Program notes, the country's dedicated government, natural resources, and young and diverse people offer the potential to achieve zero hunger through action to combat climate change, reduce the risk of disasters, gender inequality, and underemployment by 2030.

8. Lesotho

Following the 2019 drought in El Niño, Lesotho, more than 30% of the country's population experienced acute food insecurity, which is likely to affect families till March 2020. This contributed to the years of crop failure, which together made up 41% of the population. Rural Lesothians spend more than half their income on food. The impact of COVID-19, which reached the country in May 2020, is expected to have an impact on financial stability and food security. Finally, the long-term effects of climate change are likely to continue to challenge only more than 70% of the country's population, who rely on subsistence farming for their food and livelihood.

7. Sierra Leone

It is important to consider the progress Sierra Leone has made since 2000. The GHI score fell by 27.4 points from 58.3 to 30.9. However, 26% of the country still suffers from chronic hunger and has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world at 10.5%. While it is still recovering from the economic and personal loss of the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic (like neighboring Liberia, see below), it is now facing additional challenges from school and business closings to stem the spread of COVID-19.

6. Liberia

Liberia remains in the top ten hungriest countries in the GHI after joining in 2019. However, food insecurity dates back to the civil war from 1989 to 2003. Around 16% of Liberian families are food insecure, and even though the country is not as affected by the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the Ebola epidemic of 2014-16, the problems of border closings and the economic issues caused by COVID-19 losses threaten hungry families in the country even more.

5. Mozambique

Mozambique ranks fifth on the list of the ten hungriest countries this year as one of the many countries with growing food insecurity. This is particularly worrying as the country achieved its MDGs in 2015 to cut the number of food unsafe Mozambicans in half. Currently, the malnutrition rate stands at 32.6%, indicating that nearly a third of Mozambicans suffer from chronic hunger. The stunting rate among children is also high at just over 42%

4. Haiti

Haiti is still hungry in the same hemisphere and has only moved on the right track since 2000. The island nation has a devastating combination of political authorities and natural disasters that left 2.6 million Haitians food insecure in 2016.

3. Madagascar

Madagascar is one of three countries with full 2020 GHI data classified as “alarming” for food insecurity, plus the following two countries on this list. One of the reasons is a worrying increase in malnutrition rates from 30% in 2009-11 to almost 42% in 2017-19. Earlier this year, the United Nations warned of the spread of COVID-19 at the pandemic level amid an unprecedented hunger in Madagascar and its neighbors.

2. Timor-Leste

One-third of the 1.2 million inhabitants of Timor-Leste suffer from chronic food insecurity. Several factors have contributed to chronic food insecurity in the country, which ranked eighth on the 2019 global hunger index. Agricultural productivity is low. The consumption of human food is both qualitatively and quantitatively insufficient. Associated with this is poor water, plumbing, and sanitation infrastructure, which means a higher rate of water-borne diseases that will prevent people (especially children) from ingesting nutrients. It has also resulted in an estimated more than half of Timor Leste's children wither and 15% suffering from the trash.

1. Chad

Chad is a mainstay of the global hunger index and ranks third in 2019 and second in 2018 and 2017. The persistent effects of climate change in the country have contributed to widespread food insecurity, which in turn is exacerbated by the influx of conflict refugees. Torn Nigeria, Sudan, and the Central African Republic - all need food aid. At 39.6%, Chad’s undernourishment rate is the fourth-highest in this report. Its child stunting rate (39.8%) and child wasting rate (13.3%) are considered high and contribute to a nearly 12% mortality rate in children under 5. This makes Chad one of the few countries in the world where more than 1 in 10 children dies before their fifth birthday.

Here are five ways to solve world hunger:

1. Put those furthest behind first: To realize the full potential of our globalized economy, national governments need to expand social protection systems for the most vulnerable. Providing this opportunity for equitable economic growth will increase the purchasing power of the poorest 2 billion people, which in turn creates increased demand, creates new jobs, and boosts the local economy. Investing in integrative development is not only the right thing to do but also makes good economic sense.

2. Farm-to-market enablers: Access to affordable, nutritious food for everyone - all 7 billion of us - is vital. We need to innovate and invest in the efficiency of our supply chains by developing sustainable and enduring markets. To support these markets, we also need to improve rural infrastructure, particularly roads, storage, and electrification, to ensure that farmers can reach a wider consumer base.

3. Reduce food waste: Of the 4 billion tons of food we produce each year, a third is wasted, costing the global economy nearly $750 billion annually. In developed countries, food is often wasted on the plate. Whereas in developing countries, it is lost during production because crops go unused or unprocessed due to poor storage or because farmers cannot bring their goods to market.

4. Promotion of sustainable plant diversity: Today, four plants (rice, wheat, corn, and soy) account for 60% of all calories consumed worldwide. To address the challenges of climate change, food availability, and access, we need to help farmers explore and identify a wider range of crops. The diversity of crops will potentially provide communities with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and active lifestyles. To achieve this goal, we need to train farmers to grow these crops and make sure they have access to the tools and skills they need. Equally important is building a consumer market for these various foods by educating communities about the nutritional importance of consuming a wide range of foods.

5. Make nutrition a priority, starting from a child's first 1,000 days: Nothing is more important to a child's development than good health and nutrition, especially during the first 1,000 days (from conception to the age of two). To prevent stunting and promote healthy development, we need to ensure that children and nursing mothers have access to the nutritious foods they need.

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Abdul-Qudus Oyekanmi is a Nigeria-based full-stack digital marketing intern and activist at the International Youth Organization for Peace and Sustainability.