The year world hunger made a deadly comeback

Waste not want not: The amount of wasted food is enough to feed around one billion people.

Will the world ever be free from hunger? Last year, for the first time in over a decade, the number of people going hungry began to rise. And the problem is not just in developing countries…

It was the milestone that no one wanted to cross. But this year the UN announced that, for the first time in a decade, hunger was on the rise again. And now, as millions prepare to celebrate the holiday season, one in nine people around the world are going hungry.

The situation seems to be getting worse. Earlier this year, famine was declared in South Sudan. Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen are also on the brink of famine, putting a total of 20 million people at risk of starvation.

Unlike food shortages of the past, these are not caused by drought or crop failure — they are caused by war. In June, the vice-president for the aid agency Mercy Corps described the situation as “entirely avoidable”.

And yet hunger is not just a problem in the developing world. According to a new report by the Second Harvest food bank, one in four people in Silicon Valley are at risk of hunger, thanks to the soaring rent prices in the world’s technology hub.

Last week, The New York Times published an investigation into Venezuela, an oil-rich country in the midst of a financial crisis. Food shortages there are now so serious that children are dying of hunger. Doctors are reporting “the kind of extreme malnutrition often found in refugee camps”.

And earlier this month, a British MP was brought to tears in Parliament by the story of a hungry family in Wirral, devastated by changes to the benefits system. The family’s father counted them “lucky” to be invited to a stranger’s funeral so that they could eat the leftover food.

“Two-thirds of the people who come to my surgery are on the brink of destitution,” said the constituency’s Labour MP, Frank Field. Until around five years ago, that was “totally unheard of” in Britain.

For a long time, world hunger has been going down. The UN has pledged to eliminate it by 2030. But now that goal is looking even harder than it originally seemed. Will we ever get there?

Feed the world

Of course, say some. Humans have been to the moon, split the atom, and invented the iPhone. With all of our scientific knowledge and technological advances, ending hunger ought to be easy. After all, there is enough food for everyone: the amount wasted each year could feed all of the world’s hungry people. It is simply a case of getting it into the right hands (and mouths).

If only it were that simple, say others. The problem is not about knowledge or logistics or even willpower; it is about politics. According to the UN, 60% of the world’s hungry people live in countries affected by war or climate change. These are complex, man-made problems which need long-term thinking and a global mindset. Unfortunately, human nature is often geared for the opposite.

You Decide

  1. Why do people throw away food, despite knowing that others are hungry?
  2. Will the world ever solve its hunger problem?


  1. It has been over 30 years since Band Aid recorded a Christmas charity single (Feed The World) to help end famine in Ethiopia. Create your own piece of art to help raise awareness about hunger. This could be a song, video, poem, image or story.
  2. You have been put in charge of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. It is your job to help reduce the world’s hunger. Using the links under Become An Expert and your own research, write down a plan for how you would do it.

Some People Say...

“After a full belly all is poetry.”

Frank McCourt

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) released its statistics for 2016 in September this year. It stated that 815 million people went hungry. Around 155 million children suffer from stunted growth, and 52 million suffer from wasting (their weight is too low for their height). WHO blamed an increase in war and conflict for the rising numbers, and said that it was made worse by climate change.
What do we not know?
Whether the official numbers will have risen again during 2017, although with several countries on the brink of famine this year it does seem likely. We also do not know whether the UN will be able to meet its target of ending hunger by 2030, or the best way to make this happen.

Word Watch

On the rise
In 2016 the number of the world’s hungry reached 815 million, 38 million more than the year before. However, it has not yet surpassed the number of hungry people in 2000.
The UN does not officially declare a situation a “famine” until 20% of households face extreme food shortages, 30% of people suffer from malnutrition, and two people in every 10,000 die from hunger each day.
The South American country has the largest proven oil reserve in the world, but for years its economy was over-dependent on oil. When oil prices fell in 2014, Venezuela fell into a continuing economic crisis.
Although official figures are not available, doctors told The New York Times that they had counted hundreds of deaths.
The UK is in the process of switching to a benefits system called Universal Credit, which critics say is pushing thousands of people into poverty.
Going down
The proportion of undernourished people in developing countries fell by almost half between 1990 and 2015.
According to the FAO (the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation).

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