More than 20 million ‘at risk of starvation’ in developing world

Nearly half of countries in Global Hunger Index at ‘alarming’ or ‘serious’ levels

The number of hungry people in the world “remains unacceptably high” with millions still experiencing chronic hunger and many places suffering from acute food crises and even famine, according to the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI).

The 2017 GHI, which is jointly published on Thursday by Concern Worldwide, the International Food Policy Research Institute and the German aid agency Welthungerhilfe, confirms overall progress across the planet – hunger levels have fallen by 27 per cent since 2000 – but says this is masking places where there are "alarming levels of hunger".

A total of 51 countries are ranked as having “serious” or “alarming” hunger according to the study, “in a year when famine cast a shadow over four nations where more than 20 million people are still at risk of starvation”.

The regions of the world struggling most with hunger are South Asia and Africa south of the Sahara, with scores in the "serious range".


The Central African Republic (CAR), which has a population of 4.6 million, has the highest hunger levels out of 119 countries where data could be collected. The report highlights the conflict-troubled country, where about half of the citizens are undernourished, as being the sole country in the GHI's most severe category of "extremely alarming"; a level no country has fallen to since 2014.

The GHI, now in its 12th year, ranks countries based on four key indicators: undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting. The 2017 report ranked 119 countries in the developing world, nearly half of which have “alarming” or “serious” hunger levels.

A lack of data meant 13 countries were not included in this year's GHI, despite significant concerns being raised about nine of them, including war-torn South Sudan. This year was the first time in six years that famine was declared anywhere in the world.

"On February 20th, 2017, the world awoke to a headline that should have never come about: Famine had been declared in parts of South Sudan," the report notes. "This was on top of imminent famine warnings in northern Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen, putting a total of 20 million people at risk of starvation."

The formal famine declaration in South Sudan meant people were already dying of hunger, it adds.

“Despite years of progress, food security is still under threat. Conflict and climate change are hitting the poorest people the hardest and effectively pitching parts of the world into perpetual crisis,” the GHI states. “Although it has been said that ‘hunger does not discriminate’, it does. It emerges the strongest and most persistently among populations that are already vulnerable and disadvantaged,” it adds.

‘Perpetual food crisis’

“Shamefully, large parts of the world are falling deeper into a perpetual food crisis, despite wealthy nations having the resources, knowledge and technology to reverse this course,” said Concern Worldwide chief executive Dominic MacSorley.

He added: “We tend to talk about hunger in terms of data, percentages, but once you see a child dying of hunger it compels you to act and to do more. It is an obscenity and tragedy in particular because it is preventable.”

By committing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the international community promised to eradicate hunger and reduce inequality by 2030, “yet the world is still not on track to reach this target”, according to the report.

It cites the case of women and girls who comprise 60 per cent of the world’s hungry, “often the result of deeply-rooted social structures that deny women access to education, healthcare, and resources”.

While there is a slight overall reduction in children suffering from hunger, it is estimated that 52 million children under five have extremely low weight for their height and 155 million are stunted. It estimates about 45 per cent of deaths among children under five are linked to undernutrition.

The report calls for governments to invest more in achieving the UN’s goal of zero hunger by 2030; to better support small farmers and include them in policy debates, and to ensure fairer standards in business and trade.

The 2017 GHI can be found on

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times