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Who are the hungry?

Most hungry people are the rural poor living in developing countries – villages in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. They depend on raising animals or cultivating crops on a small piece of land to feed their family. Many have no electricity and no safe drinking water.

Many do not own land but work as hired labourers for a basic wage which doesn’t allow them to save anything for emergencies. Often the work is seasonal and the family must move or split up to earn a living. Without a steady income, they can’t supplement their nutrition needs by buying food. Women are often most affected and those who are undernourished during pregnancy are more likely to have undernourished children.

Catastrophes like floods, earthquakes, drought and conflict in vulnerable countries force the poor to abandon their homes and livelihoods, creating even more victims of hunger. Many move to the city in search of work, which can be scarce and poorly paid, settling in vast slums where disease and poverty are rife. They produce little or no food and frequently lack the money to buy it .

In 2000, nearly two billion people lived in cities; by 2030, this figure will have more than doubled. As cities expand and more people 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.

Why are so many people in the world hungry?

A close-up of children inside one of the tent camps in Balochistan Province, Pakistan, where thousands have been displaced following massive floods that began in July 2010.

A close-up of children inside one of the tent camps in Balochistan Province, Pakistan, where thousands have been displaced following massive floods that began in July 2010.

Lack of food, as we’ve said, is not the problem. The world produces enough food for everyone to be properly nourished and lead a healthy and productive life. Hunger exists because of poverty, natural disasters, earthquakes, floods and droughts. Women are particularly affected. In many countries they do most of the farming, but do not have the same access as men to training, credit or land.

Hunger exists because of conflict and war, which destroy the chance to earn a decent living. It exists because poor people don’t have access to land to grow viable crops or keep livestock, or to steady work that would give them an income to buy food. It exists because people sometimes use natural resources in ways that are not sustainable. It exists because there is not enough investment in the rural sector in many countries to support agricultural development. Hunger exists because financial and economic crises affect the poor most of all by reducing or eliminating the sources of income they depend on to survive.

And finally it exists because there is not yet the political will and commitment to make the changes needed to end hunger, once and for all.

Where do the hungry live?

Ninety-eight percent of the undernourished live in developing countries. Here is how the numbers break down (2010): 

Proportionately the worst affected area is sub-Saharan Africa where it is estimated 30 percent of the population is undernourished. Twenty two countries in the region are in what is called protracted crisis. That is they suffer from recurrent natural disasters, conflict, ongoing food crises, loss of livelihood and are thus unable to respond adequately to their undernourished populations. These countries often have weak governance and are in a special category with special needs.