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

World Food Program USA
December 15, 2020
Photo: WFP/Khudr Alissa
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 77 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

Bar graph representing 10 worst food crises in 2019 by number of people in Crisis or worse (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above)

IPC describes the severity of food emergencies. Phase 3 marks a region or country in crisis.

These top ten worst food crises in the world are driven almost entirely by conflict, which is why 70% 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.

Yemen is the world’s most dire food crisis. More than 20 million people – over 70% 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 360,000 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.

Photo: Marco Frattini/WFP

Despite our efforts, a child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes.

The Democratic Republic of Congo
The DRC is on track to surpass Yemen as the world’s worst hunger crisis. Decades of civil war have left millions dead or displaced. The number of severely hungry people has skyrocketed from 13M last year to nearly 22M, due to a toxic mix of conflict, displacement, disease, economic decline, natural disasters and COVID-19. We’re scaling up operations across the country to save lives.

Photo: WFP/Tara Crossley

4.6M children don’t get enough to eat in the DRC: all they’ve known is war.

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. Despite a recent peace agreement, violence grows, forcing families from their homes, jobs and support systems. Since 2015, there have been at least 30 pockets of famine-like conditions. 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.

Photo: WFP/Gabriela Vivacqua

We turn to airdrops, all-terrain vehicles and river barges to get help to hard-to-reach communities in South Sudan.


Nearly a decade of war has pushed more than 9 million Syrians to extreme levels of poverty and hunger. More than 6.1 million people are displaced inside the country, many of whom now live in squalid, overcrowded camps, and another 5.6 million have fled 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 still served 9 million Syrians last year.

A young boy sits outside a destroyed building.
Photo: WFP/Abeer Etefa

Millions of Syrian children have had their educations interrupted by conflict, but our school feeding program provides a powerful incentive to make it to class.


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 people from their homes and cut them off from their farms. Over 8.6 million people are food insecure.

A mother sits, holding her child, with another woman nearby.
Photo: WFP/Arete/Damilola Onafuwa

300,000 children in Nigeria would die without our help, and three million people rely on WFP for their food.

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 7 million don’t know when they’ll eat next and that could double before the end of the year. The number of internally displaced people has risen from 70,000 to nearly 1.6M in less than a year, making it the fastest-growing IDP crisis globally. We’re working to assist 5 million of them.

A woman stands in a dry field, throwing seeds.
Photo: WFP/Simon Pierre Diouf

Families in the Sahel are facing two growing threats: climate change and conflict.


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.

“We need better and quicker access in all conflict zones,” said U.N. World Food Programme Executive Director Beasley, “so we can get to more of the civilians who need our help. But what the world needs most of all is an end to the wars.”

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 this year’s 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 2019 Global Report on Food Crises.