The Hunger Crisis in Africa
Africa is home to over 1.4 billion people, hundreds of millions of whom live in extreme poverty. In fact, 27 of the world’s 30 poorest countries are in Africa.1
Poverty in Africa is exacerbated by such factors as population density, gender inequality, war, political instability, economic shocks, class conflict, corruption, weather extremes and disease (e.g., AIDS, Ebola, and COVID-19). Because of these factors, Africans regularly deal with acute food shortages and food crises.
How Many Africans Are Facing a Food Crisis?
Of the 10 countries identified by the World Food Programme (WFP) as having the highest number of people facing critical food insecurity* in 2022, five are in Africa. In addition, the WFP reports that the number of people in Sub-saharan Africa facing critical food insecurity include:
- 45.5 million people in 12 countries in Central and Southern Africa.
- 43.6 million people in 9 countries in East Africa.
- 30.4 million people in 16 countries in West Africa and the Sahel.2
Food insecurity is defined as not having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of nutritious food that allows a person to remain healthy and lead an active life.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization also reports that of the 828 estimated people in the world facing chronic hunger* today, 278 million live in Africa, an increase of 66 million since 2014. By 2030, that number is projected to increase to 310.7 million.3
Hunger is the physical sensation experienced by the body. It signals a lack of nutrients and a need for nourishment. When food security (i.e., dependable and consistent access to healthy food) is disrupted, hunger becomes chronic.
The numbers show persistent regional disparities, with Africa bearing the heaviest burden [of hunger]. One in five people in Africa (20.2 percent of the population) was facing hunger in 2021. — The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
What Are the Causes of Hunger in Africa?
According to the World Food Programme, the primary causes of the current global food crisis, which is affecting Africa more than any other region, are threefold:4
Economic Shocks: For many Africans already struggling to survive on a meager income, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting movement restrictions severely affected their ability to work. Without any savings and unable to leave the house to work for a daily wage meant sacrificing daily necessities, including food. Livelihoods collapsed, and Africans are now struggling to survive while seeking a sustainable source of income.
In addition, soaring food prices have made it even more difficult for families in extreme poverty to afford the nutrition they need. And Russia’s war in Ukraine has disrupted critical shipments of wheat, cooking oil and fertilizer supplies that Africa is heavily dependent on.
Conflict/Insecurity: Between 2018 and 2021, the number of people facing severe food insecurity in countries experiencing conflict/insecurity increased by a staggering 88%.
Countries experiencing conflict/insecurity include Ethiopia and Burkina Faso, two of the African countries in which Compassion partners with local churches to assist children and families in extreme need.
Conflict leads to loss of local food resources, as crops and livestock are plundered or destroyed. It also leads to the displacement of people fleeing the conflict, often ending up in camps for refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) reliant on the international community for food assistance.
Weather Extremes: Increasing weather-related natural disasters, are destroying agricultural production. In east, central and southern Africa, ongoing drought and intermittent flooding during rainy seasons have been devastating for impoverished families reliant on small-scale, agriculture-based efforts.
A History of Hunger and Famine in Africa
1966 to 1967 — Biafran Famine: During Biafra’s secession war from Nigeria, a blockade was established by Nigeria. As many as 2 million civilians died from starvation caused by the stalemate. This famine was the first to be publicized by mass media in Western countries.
1970s to 1980s — The Sahel Drought: The Sahel is the transitional zone between the Sahara Desert and the humid savanna. A drought in the Sahel region from the late 1960s to the 1980s created poor grazing conditions for cattle, which resulted in famine. Over 1 million people starved in Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
1983 to 1985 — Ethiopia Famine: The 1980s Ethiopia famine was one of the worst humanitarian events of the 20th century. Recurring drought and failed harvests combined with civil war resulted in an estimated 1 million starvation deaths.
1991 to 1992 — Somalia Famine: Due to drought and civil war, many Somalis were unable to produce or receive food. The resulting famine took the lives of 350,000.
1998 to 2000 – Eritrean-Ethiopian War: A border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea killed or wounded many citizens and used precious economic resources. The war’s destruction combined with three consecutive years of drought led to the loss of livestock, population displacement and malnutrition. An estimated 10 million persons were placed at risk of starvation.
1998 to 2003 — The Second Congo War: Known as Africa’s World War, the Second Congo War was the widest interstate war in modern African history. Nearly 4 million Africans died during the conflict, mainly from starvation and disease.
2005 to 2006 — Niger Food Crisis: In 2004 a severe drought and locust invasion destroyed up to 100% of the crop in regions of Niger. More than 3 million people were left short of food, and many became malnourished and vulnerable to disease.
2011 to 2012 — East Africa Famine: A severe drought across East Africa caused the famine in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and other neighboring countries, resulting in an estimated 285,000 deaths.
2015 to 2016 — El Niño Drought: One of the strongest El Niños on record created a severe drought in southern and eastern Africa. The drought damaged crops, causing food insecurity for more than 50 million people.
2020 — COVID-19 Lockdowns: During COVID-19 lockdowns, many laborers lost their means of income. Additionally, the response time to humanitarian crises, such as locust invasions, was slowed. As a result, the ranks of Africans in extreme poverty have surged, as have the rates of acute malnutrition.
2021 to 2022 — Rising Global Food Crisis: Launched by the economic impacts of the pandemic, an unprecedented global food crisis has been fueled by a number of situations, including inflation, supply shortages, weather extremes, war in Ukraine, and regional conflict.
How Compassion Helps African Children Facing Hunger
To fight the lack of access to sufficient, healthy food, Compassion partners with local churches in eight African countries to implement health and nutrition interventions. These interventions provide individualized care and attention to hundreds of thousands of children in poverty.
Our church partners are trained to identify and take immediate action on behalf of the malnourished children in their care. They might provide a program of emergency feeding or vitamin supplements. Or they might work with the child’s caregivers to ensure that home meals are balanced and nutritious.
On program activity days, our church partners provide children with nutritious meals and snacks. They also train them about the importance of a balanced diet to their health and well-being, as well as ways to eat healthily outside of program days.
Compassion’s program of holistic child development comprises both immediate initiatives when hunger and undernutrition are a threat, as well as initiatives that support long-term wellness.
How Is Compassion Fighting the Global Food Crisis in Africa?
The current forecasts about the global food crisis indicate that the African children and families in Compassion’s care will experience critical, widespread need for nutrition interventions in both the near and long terms.
Hunger Interventions for the Near Term
For families with low household food security, Compassion provides packages of food and/or direct cash transfers to address immediate hunger needs.
Mobile money transfers provide cash directly to families in a secure a secure, discreet and cost-effective way. Families can then use the money to obtain food.
Hunger Interventions for the Long Term
Long-term, sustainable food access is Compassion’s ultimate goal for the families we serve. In rural areas, families are provided agricultural inputs (seeds, fertilizer, livestock, etc.) and training on how to increase harvests through small family farming efforts.
In urban areas children and caregivers receive training in income-generation activities and opportunities to earn a sustainable living that covers their nutrition needs.
Your Opportunity to Make a Difference in Africa
We invite you to join other caring Compassion supporters to help address life-threatening hunger needs in Africa caused by the current global food crisis. Your support will provide:
- Packages of food, including staples like rice, eggs, meat, milk and corn.
- Direct cash transfers that families can use to buy the food they need.
- Nutrition assistance for pregnant mothers and infants.
- Income-generating activities that ensure long-term food security. Our actions are our future! Please donate today to help African families affected by the global food crisis.
The Reality of Starvation in Africa: A Deeper Look
The term "starving African" often evokes painful images of children with distended bellies and skeletal bodies, their eyes begging for help. These images aren’t just stereotypes; they represent the grim reality for millions of people in Africa, particularly children. Despite the continent’s abundant natural resources and human potential, many people are still stuck in poverty, struggling to access food.
"Food insecurity in Africa" has become an unfortunate staple in global discussions about the continent. This term refers to how those in poverty can’t reliably access enough nutritious food, which would allow them to remain healthy and lead active lives. Food insecurity can lead to chronic malnutrition, and when combined with other factors such as disease, conflict and extreme poverty, it can escalate into a hunger crisis — a situation characterized by a severe and widespread lack of food and nutrition affecting a significant portion of a population and leading to serious humanitarian and health implications.
Hunger in Africa is rampant
According to the United Nations, nearly 278 million people on the continent are experiencing chronic hunger — a persistent and long-term lack of access to sufficient food leading to ongoing malnutrition and potential health risks — and projections suggest this number could increase to over 310 million by 2030. Unfortunately, these alarming figures are not evenly spread across the continent but are concentrated in regions heavily affected by war, political instability and extreme weather conditions.
The cruel irony is that most of the people affected by food insecurity in Africa are farmers or those involved in agricultural activities. The changing climate, with its erratic rainfall patterns, prolonged droughts and occasional floods, has compounded this struggle, often leading to crop failure and devastating losses. They cultivate the land and tend to crops and rear animals, but when harvest time comes they reap little.
Armed Conflict: A Major Contributor
The terrible plight of people starving in Africa is worsened by armed conflict. In many regions, fighting disrupts farming activities, making it impossible for people to plant or harvest crops. Violence also displaces people, forcing them to abandon their homes and farms and seek refuge in camps, where they rely entirely on international aid for their survival.
This combination of factors creates a perfect storm for starvation in Africa. But while the situation may seem dire, we must remember that it’s not beyond us to do something about it. Countless organizations are working tirelessly to address food insecurity, providing emergency food aid, supporting small-scale farmers and advocating for policies that favor sustainable agricultural practices. But they can't do it alone — and we can help.
When we understand the complexity of hunger and starvation in Africa, we realize that resolving these issues goes beyond providing immediate food aid. It also requires addressing the root causes of food insecurity, including climate change, conflict and inequality. More importantly, it involves empowering local communities, especially small-scale farmers, with the resources and skills they need to become resilient in the face of these challenges.
There Is Something YOU Can Do!
You can play a vital part in this collective effort. Whether it's sponsoring a child, donating to an organization working on the ground, advocating for policy changes or simply spreading awareness about the issue, every action counts. As we strive to end the suffering of many starving in Africa, let's remember that our actions today can help create a future where every child, woman and man in Africa has access to the nutritious food they need to live a healthy and productive life.
Join us today, and together we can make a difference in the lives of millions of Africans who are battling starvation daily. Your generous donation can provide immediate food aid to an African child or family who is starving, equip a farmer with the resources he needs, or support a community as they build self-sufficiency to combat food insecurity. Donate today and help us combat hunger in Africa. With your help, we can turn the tide against starvation in Africa and empower so many people to break free from food insecurity.