Over 65% of the World’s Hungriest People Live in Just Ten Countries. Why?

World Food Program USA
April 23, 2021
Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini
The number one cause of hunger around the world is clear.

The United Nations World Food Programme delivers over 4 million tons of food to nearly 100 million people each year in more than 80 countries. Most of them are concentrated in just a few countries. Why?

The #1 driver of hunger on the planet is man-made conflict. Conflict tears families apart, forces entire communities from their homes, destroys infrastructure and disrupts food production. It’s a vicious force, and one that’s pushed 88 million innocent civilians to the most extreme levels of hunger imaginable.

As U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley says, “Wars and conflicts are driving hunger in a way we’ve never seen before.”

By the Numbers, and the Countries

graph of top hunger hotspots

These top ten worst food crises in the world are driven almost entirely by conflict, which is why nearly 80% percent of WFP’s budget is spent on conflict-affected countries. The link between conflict and hunger is not only undeniable, it’s persistent and deadly. Below you’ll see six examples of how violence causes such extreme levels of hunger and how we’re responding.

The Democratic Republic of Congo
The DRC surpassed Yemen this year as the world’s worst hunger crisis. Decades of civil war have left millions dead or displaced. The number of severely hungry people skyrocketed from 13M in 2019 to over 27M, due to a toxic mix of conflict, displacement, disease, economic decline, natural disasters and COVID-19. One in three Congolese – a record high –are now hungry. We’re scaling up operations across the country to save lives.

An underweight girl looks directly into the camera
Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

3.3M children suffer from malnutrition and don’t get enough to eat in the DRC: all they’ve known is war.

Yemen
Yemen is heading towards the biggest famine in modern history. More than 16 million people – over half of the population – waking up hungry every day, it’s a devastating reminder of what conflict can do to a country. More than two million children are severely malnourished, and 400,000 are at risk of dying without treatment. And warring parties have disrupted humanitarian operations, making our work difficult and dangerous. But we’re still working day and night to feed 12 million Yemenis every month.

WFP Executive Director David Beasley speaks to mother and child in Yemen
Photo: WFP/ Mohammed Awadh

UN World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director, David Beasley, leans down to speak to mother and baby in Yemen.

South Sudan
Record-high levels of hunger across South Sudan are a result of a deadly combination of a years long civil war and erratic weather. Violence has continued to grow, forcing families from their homes, jobs and support systems. Famine was most likely already happening in South Sudan between October and November of 2019, and is expected to continue through July of 2021 if conflict levels remain unchanged. U.N. World Food Programme aid has prevented famine from sweeping across the entire country – but nearly half the population is still severely food insecure.

A group of women lean over bags of food.
Photo: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua

Women collect bags of WFP food assistance delivered via WFP air drops in a South Sudanese village.

Syria

Nearly a decade of war has pushed more than 12.4 million Syrians to extreme levels of poverty and hunger. More than 6.7 million people are displaced inside the country, many of whom now live in squalid, overcrowded camps, and another 5.6 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries. Syrian children have borne the brunt of the war’s effects. The crisis has become one of our most complicated operations, but we continue to serve 4.8 million Syrians monthly.

a young girl in broken building
Photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

A young girl stands in the rubble of Raqqa, a Syrian city of debris and frequent target of conflict. Residents say their homes have either been destroyed or looted.

Nigeria

Conflict and poverty are wreaking havoc in Nigeria, with the Northeast part of the country an epicenter of climate change and conflict. Attacks by armed groups and counter-insurgents have forced 1.9 million people from their homes and cut them off from their farms. 70% of Nigerians in the three northeastern states (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe) are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Women at a food distribution center in Nigeria, all wearing brightly colored hijabs on their heads
Photo: WFP/Andre Vornic

Women displaced by violence line up for WFP assistance at Muna host community, northern Nigeria.

The Sahel

The Central Sahel – comprised of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – is on the verge of catastrophe. The area risks being consumed by a lethal mix of escalating armed conflict, the severe impacts of climate change and now the spread of COVID-19. More than 6.5 million don’t know when they’ll eat next and 70% of children in the region need emergency food assistance. The number of internally displaced people rose from 70,000 in 2019 to 1.6M in less than a year, making it one of the fastest-growing IDP crises globally. We’re working to assist over 5 million of them.

A woman stands outside of a refugee tent, her baby wrapped around her back with a cloth.
Photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

Displaced families in Burkina Faso are struggling to find food. We’re trying to reach them as fast as we can.

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It’s devastatingly clear that communities in these countries are suffering, stuck in a vicious cycle of conflict and hunger that could dash their hopes for a stable, healthy future.

“Man made conflict is driving instability and powering a destructive new wave of famine that threatens to sweep across the world. The toll being paid in human misery is unimaginable,” said U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director Beasley. “Beyond the immediate crisis, we need to invest in peace, so that in the future, desperate families are not forced to the brink of survival by the bullet and the bomb.”

By promoting peace and ending violent conflict, the world could save billions of dollars in humanitarian food assistance costs, and millions of lives every year. Before we reach that goal, and as the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, the U.N. World Food Programme is there before, during and after upheaval to help families survive and recover.

Do you think it’s wrong that so many people are going hungry because of entirely preventable causes? We do too. Help us change someone’s life today and donate now.

For more information, view Monitoring Food Security in Countries with Conflict Situations and the 2021 Hunger Hotspots report.