Where are the World’s Hungriest People? Take a Look

New Map Charts Progress of 129 Nations as World Hunger Falls to 25-Year Low

The number of hungry people in the world has steadily declined to a 25-year low, thanks largely to economic prosperity in China and other developing countries.

A quarter century ago, more than 1 billion people trapped in poverty lacked access to enough food to live a healthy life.

Today, the number of undernourished people stands at 795 million, according to the UN’s annual hunger report, released Wednesday, May 27. The number of underfed people has declined from 18.6 percent of the world’s population to 10.9 percent since 1990-92. Among developing nations, the improvement is even more dramatic: a drop from 23.3 percent in 1990-92 to 12.9 percent today.

“. . . We can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime,” Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in a statement.

Aside from China, which account for about two-thirds of the reduction of hungry people in developing countries, foodstuffs such as cereals, oilseeds, meats, and dairy products have become more readily available to nations in need. Gains have also been made in communication and transporting goods.  

“Transport is a key ingredient of food security,” says Piero Conforti, a senior statistician at the FAO and lead author of the report. “Many landlocked countries are helped by improvement in cell phone communications. Information flows help people move food around.”  

Although much of the world is better nourished, regions that have endured extreme weather events, natural disasters and political instability still lag behind. Presently, 24 African countries are battling food crisis–twice as many as in 1990-92. Sub-Saharan Africa now has the highest rates of undernourishment–one in four people remain undernourished.

Southern Asia remains the region with the most hungry people. As many as 281 million people are undernourished.

In East Asia, the numbers are better–primarily because China cut the number of its underfed population in half. Vietnam and Korea also have made huge strides, Conforti says. He describes Vietnam in particular as a critical success story, because it invested in rural agricultural development.

"If we truly wish to create a world free from poverty and hunger, then we must make it a priority to invest in the rural areas of developing countries where most of the world's poorest and hungriest people live," said Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, in a statement.

The largest success story lies in Latin America and the Caribbean, which includes South America, where economic growth and social programs helped reduce the undernourished population from 14.7 percent in 1990-92 to 5.5 percent today. The number of underweight children has dropped dramatically. Brazil, Chile, Guyana, Nicaragua, Peru, and Uruguay are well on their way to ending hunger, the FAO says. The exception is Guatemala, where the number of undernourished increased.

The news is not as good for the polarized Middle East. The success of the United Arab Emirates at decreasing hunger stands in stark contrast to food insecurity in Syria and Yemen, caused by political instability and civil war.

Some countries are missing from the report due to insufficient data. Major disasters and conflicts can prevent governments from reporting reliable data, which is why Syria and a handful of countries in central Africa are not in the report. The available data for these countries is incorporated into the regional and global calculations.

Follow Kelsey Nowakowski on Twitter.

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