Global Food Crisis Fund

The Pain of Hunger

When hunger pangs strike, satisfying the physical sensation should be as simple as eating something. But for hundreds of millions of people, lack of food access makes the sensation of hunger a near-constant state.

Improving food access for those who need it most requires understanding the relationship between poverty and hunger.

What is the Definition of Hunger?

Hunger is a physical sensation the body experiences. It signals a lack of nutrients and a need for nourishment. We all experience hunger, but when food security (i.e., dependable and consistent access to healthy food) is disrupted, hunger becomes chronic.

What is Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to safe and nutritious food that’s needed to live a well-balanced, active and healthy life.

The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) uses two indicators to estimate the extent of hunger and undernutrition in the world, as well as the global community’s progress toward the United Nations’ second Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2) — a world with zero hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition by 2030.

  • The Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU) indicator
  • The Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES)

The FAO uses the PoU indicator to monitor hunger and food crises at the global and regional levels. It uses country data on food availability, food consumption and energy needs to estimate the adequacy of a population’s dietary energy intake. The number of hungry people in the world has historically been determined with the Prevalence of Undernourishment indicator.

The FAO uses the FIES to estimate the percentage of a country’s population facing food insecurity. The data is collected through interviews, and it can be used to measure food insecurity at the individual or household level.

For example, a household experiencing moderate food insecurity may occasionally miss meals, and when they do eat, it may not be highly nutritious food. Someone facing severe food insecurity may go entire days without eating. This could be because they don't have money to buy food or because environmental factors, job insecurity or global economic events are limiting food access.

What Causes World Hunger?

There are multiple causes of chronic hunger and food insecurity in the world. A few contributing factors include:

  • Inflation: The value of money decreases when there's inflation, causing food prices to rise. Some individuals then have less buying power, forcing them to buy less (and lower quality) food.
  • Natural disasters: From floods to wildfires to drought and earthquakes, weather and climate change-related catastrophes destroy crops and farmland. This depletes food supply, increases the cost of bringing food to market and raises food prices.
  • Disease, war or other disruptive events: Whether it's an ongoing civil war or an infectious disease outbreak, events that damage infrastructure and the food supply chain often lead to shortages that cause hunger crises.
  • Unequal distribution of wealth: Some parts of a country may be affected by extreme poverty that lingers for generations, while others are more affluent. Unlike those who are more affluent, people in poverty don’t have savings to help them weather hardships. So when a crisis like any of those listed above strikes and food prices inevitably rise as a result, the poor aren’t able pull on reserves to purchase the nutritious food they need.

What Is the State of World Hunger and Food Insecurity Today?

Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the prevalence of world hunger and food insecurity has taken an alarming turn.

Several global situations have combined to create a crisis of world hunger and food insecurity not seen since World War II. In addition to the pandemic, these situations include:

  • The war in Ukraine, which has disrupted vital wheat, cooking oil and fertilizer supplies to countries that rely on them, especially the low-income countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Regional conflicts, such as the ones in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Such conflicts uproot families and disrupt their income-generation activities.
  • Runaway inflation is an issue felt by the entire world. However, while more affluent people may feel the discomfort of higher prices and have to adjust their household budgets, people in extreme poverty face the threat of starvation.
  • Natural disasters, especially widespread drought currently afflicting many global regions, have taken a huge toll on the food supply, especially of impoverished families who rely on subsistence farming.

As a result of the above factors, all coming together since 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports the following grim statistics about world hunger and food insecurity:

  • In 2021 up to 828 million people experienced hunger. That’s 150 million more people than in 2019.
  • In 2021 9.8 percent of the global population experienced hunger. That’s up from 8 percent in 2019.
  • In 2021 3.2 billion people were moderately or severely food insecure. That’s 350 million more people than before the pandemic.
  • It is projected that even with a rebound in the global economy, up to 670 million people will still be experiencing hunger in 2030.

How Is the Current Global Crisis of Hunger and Food Insecurity Affecting Children?

As with all the world’s crises, the current crisis of hunger and food insecurity is affecting children the most. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports:

  • In 2021 an estimated 45 million children under age 5 were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition. Wasting increases a child’s risk of death by up to 12 times.
  • Another estimated 149 million children under age 5 were experiencing stunted growth and development because of a lack of essential nutrients in their diets.
  • Two in three children are not receiving the minimum diverse diet needed to grow and develop their full potential.

45 Million
suffering from wasting

149 Million
with stunted growth

2 in 3
not receiving an adequate diet for proper growth and development

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization (New York)

Which Regions and Countries are Most Affected by Severe Hunger?

The fight to end hunger is a global effort because every part of the world is affected by it. This even includes the United States, where obesity, the result of improper nourishment, is more of a problem than undernourishment.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, approximately 33.8 million Americans (a little more than 10% of the population) don't have enough food to eat.

Hunger is far more prevalent in other regions and countries. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that while the hunger rate in North America and Europe is less than 2.5% of the population, the percentage is much higher in other regions:

  • Hunger in Asia affects 424.5 million people (9.1% of the population).
  • Hunger in Africa affects 278 million people (20.2% of the population).
  • Hunger in the Latin America/Caribbean region affects 56.5 million people (8.6% of the population).

The World Food Programme (WFP) adds that 70 percent of the world’s hungriest people live in these 10 countries, in descending order of hunger prevalence:

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Afghanistan
  • Ethiopia
  • Yemen
  • Nigeria
  • Syrian Arab Republic
  • Sudan
  • South Sudan
  • Haiti

We are facing hunger on an unprecedented scale, food prices have never been higher, and millions of lives and livelihoods are hanging in the balance. ... Together, we can build a safer, more resilient and inclusive world – and banish the scourge of famine and starvation once and for all. But we must act now. — Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations

What are the Long-Term Effects of Hunger?

The body depends on vital nutrients from food to fuel basic human functions. Over time, the side effects of malnutrition can be severe. This is especially true in hungry children, whose immune systems aren't as developed and who have less fat and muscle reserves. The body draws from those reserves when it doesn't get the nutrition it needs from food.

The consequences of hunger can be life-altering, from greater susceptibility to infection to impaired brain function. In some cases, tragically, hunger can be life-ending.

These are just some of the long-term effects of hunger:

  • Seizures caused by vitamin deficiencies.
  • Potential to develop asthma.
  • Increased chance of rickets, a bone disorder caused by insufficient vitamin D.
  • Fatigue and tiring out more easily than those who are properly nourished.
  • Less likely to finish school due to adverse effects on mental development.

How Does Compassion International Address the Issue of Hunger?

We partner with local churches around the world to implement early intervention health and nutrition initiatives. These provide individualized care and attention for millions of children affected by poverty.

Our frontline church partners are trained to identify child hunger and take immediate action to address it. Often, this hunger relief involves providing emergency feeding and vitamins for severely malnourished children as well as working with caregivers to address long-term wellness and ensure that meals at home meet nutritional needs.

Our church partners also provide children with regular nutritious meals and snacks on program activity days. They teach the children about the importance of a balanced diet and ways to eat healthy outside of program activity days.

How Is Compassion International Fighting the Crisis of Global Hunger and Food Insecurity?

Based on current global food crisis and hunger forecasts, Compassion anticipates an exceptionally critical, widespread need among the children and families in our care for both short-term and long-term food insecurity interventions.

In the short term, Compassion provides food packages and/or cash transfers to families with low household food security.

Compassion supports long-term sustainability of food access by equipping families in rural areas with seeds, fertilizer, livestock and training on how to build and maintain home gardens, as well as how to increase harvest through small family farming efforts.

Caregivers and youth in urban areas are provided income-generation training and opportunities to earn a sustainable living, helping eliminate lack of economic access and other financial causes of food insecurity.

Relief supplies are distributed through partnership with local churches, which means aid is delivered by neighbors to neighbors. When help arrives, it’s a familiar face at the door.

Compassion’s local church partners also provide routine healthcare and screenings for children so they can respond immediately to new or developing nutritional needs.

Our local partners use mobile money transfers to send cash directly to families. It’s secure, discrete, cost-effective and dignified way to get food assistance to those who urgently need it.

These initiatives help families return to normal so children can experience healthy development and thrive in their effort to achieve their God-given potential.

Join other food heroes to help address life-threatening hunger needs caused by the global food crisis and to provide:

  • Food kits that include essentials like rice, eggs, meat, milk, corn and other nonperishable dry goods.
  • Medical therapeutic feeding for babies, children, youth, caregivers and siblings.
  • Nutrition assistance for pregnant mothers and infants.
  • Preventive and income-generating activities that help address food insecurity long term.

Our actions are our future! Please donate today to help families affected by the global food crisis.

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1 "Hunger." Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,

2 "2.1.2 Severity of Food Insecurity |" Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Accessed 19 Apr. 2022.

3 "UN Report: Pandemic Year Marked by Spike in World Hunger." World Health Organization,

4 "Key Statistics & Graphics." USDA ERS - Key Statistics & Graphics,

5 "Adult Obesity Facts." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Sept. 2021,

6 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2021. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all. Rome, FAO.