The Global Food Crisis: Facts and How to Help
Global Food Crisis
Communities across the world are experiencing life-threatening levels of hunger. The global food system is in crisis, putting millions of people at risk of hunger and malnutrition. A war in one part of the world has led to starvation in another. This interconnection—of people across countries, cultures, languages, livelihoods and landscapes—brings to light the tight-knit ecosystem within which we all function. When one part of the system breaks down, the whole is impacted. Investing in meaningful assistance calls for responding to the whole of the crisis—anticipating and acting before a situation becomes a hunger emergency, providing urgent aid to save lives now, and providing support that addresses the root causes, to break the cycle.
Catholic Relief Services' experts can provide information and interviews about the myriad of reasons for food insecurity around the world, including the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change, as well as our work to end world hunger. Please email [email protected] to schedule an interview.
Public Relations Strategist
Global Food Crisis Countries of Concern
Six Global Food Crisis Facts
- The number of people facing crisis or worse levels of food insecurity has risen sharply by 35% since 2021 and is now affecting 258 million people across 58 countries and territories.
- One in three people suffer from some level of malnutrition.
- The countries with the highest numbers of people facing crisis levels of acute food insecurity include the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Yemen. (GRFC 2023)
- 149 million children were stunted in 2020.
- After a decade of decline, world hunger has been increasing since 2015. The world has not had this many hungry people since 2010 (FAO).
- Global food prices reached an all-time high in February 2022 (FAO) and will continue to rise as the war in Ukraine - one of the world's largest suppliers of wheat, maize, barley, and sunflower oil - rages on.
The global food crisis is connected to many other complex problems like poverty, inequality, conflict, and climate change. There is no one solution that will work for every community around the world, which is why CRS works with more than 570 partners that address the local realities. We are on the front lines, strengthening farmers, communities, infrastructure and systems to ensure everyone has sustainable access to safe, affordable and nutritious food. While our response includes a range of immediate and long-term solutions, our work to address the global food crisis can be summarized in three priority areas.
Area 1: The Roots of Change Start with the Land
While urgent assistance is needed to avert famine, we must address the underlying drivers of hunger, or we will face these crises again. Climate change exacerbates hunger through prolonged droughts, floods or storms, often destroying both food and livelihoods options. Restoring land is a critical piece of the puzzle because it helps people adapt to a changing climate, continue to feed themselves and maintain livelihoods through the next climate setback. Sustainable farming practices—those that protect the earth’s natural resources—are at the root of resilient communities. By investing in local farmers and landscapes, we can help families grow healthy and strong on land that is doing the same. Read our policy recommendations, based on evidence we have gathered regarding landscape restoration, for improving food security.
Area 2: Invest in Local Solutions to Break the Cycle of Global Hunger
The food crisis has demonstrated how interconnected our food and market systems are: when one part of the system breaks down, it impacts everything else. Breaking the cycle of global hunger begins with investing in local solutions—from land to leadership, from farmers to markets—to build resilience at the source. This begins by working with and in support of existing local systems. We can reverse the current trend of rising global hunger by investing in local solutions that create resilience and are sustainable.
Area 3: Strengthening Recovery with Flexible, Holist Support
Limited freedom of action and choice is a devastating consequence of hunger. Do I leave home to find work and food? Should I skip meals so that my children can eat? Can I trust this stranger who has offered to help? The agency of choice—having more options than only the most desperate—is achieved when funding is flexible and integrated across an emergency and recovery continuum. Breaking the cycle of global hunger begins with breaking patterns in funding and programming, which have largely been inflexible to changing events on the ground and in people’s lives.
Area 4: Acting Before an Emergency
As humanitarian crises grow more complex—and more predictable—we need to act early to anticipate and address needs before they become emergencies. In the midst of food crises, CRS supports communities to protect their food security and livelihoods in places like Haiti, Kenya, Madagascar and Uganda, through preparedness planning and action such as strengthening early warning systems or planting drought-resistant crops. CRS and communities also use data to identify thresholds that, when met, will trigger funding and immediate actions that decrease the impact of a drought or flood emergency before it hits.
A CRS Multi-year Campaign in the U.S.
While our immediate and long-term work is international in scope, in the United States, CRS launched a multi-year campaign to raise funds and advocate to end world hunger. Together, we can work towards ending this crisis through prayer, education, and action.
Global Food Crisis Situations
The Sahel Region in West Africa
Sharply worsening conflict has caused mass displacement in the central Sahel. This, coupled with a new global hunger crisis, has created a humanitarian catastrophe in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Almost 3 million people have fled violence, some multiple times and with little preparation. Most of those fleeing remain displaced within their country’s borders or have sought refuge in a neighboring country. Although neighboring communities have been welcoming and have shared their limited resources, overcrowding increases pressure on livelihoods and overall well-being.
CRS is carrying out an emergency response to save lives, reduce suffering, build resilience and support social cohesion and peacebuilding.
East Africa, particularly Somalia, is enduring its worst drought in 40 years, as five consecutive rainy seasons have failed. This has caused catastrophic impacts: tens of thousands of people have died, crops are drying up, livestock is starving, and chronic hunger and water insecurity are growing.
On top of localized problems contributing to the food crisis, the region relies heavily on Ukraine and Russia for food staples such as wheat and maize and cooking supplies like sunflower oil and fuel. As the war in Ukraine intensified, the cost of these products skyrocketed, meaning families can now only afford a fraction of what they could once purchase. With the war showing no signs of slowing down, supply shortages are expected to continue for at least the next six months, potentially pushing the region even further into a state of severe food insecurity.
CRS has an enormous presence in East Africa, including large multi-sectoral programs in Kenya and Ethiopia. CRS' food security work in the region includes the rehabilitation of government water infrastructure; cash assistance to vulnerable families; farmer training and support; the provision of nutrient-rich agricultural seed to farmers; and support for livestock - including providing vaccinations, deworming, and training in rangeland and pasture production.
In mid-April in Sudan, major clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces have had devastating consequences for civilians. CRS is making every effort to maintain programming as the conflict continues. This includes the operation of 21 health facilities in Darfur. Already, more than 100,000 Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, including Egypt and Chad.
Malnutrition in South Sudan is a public health emergency. Seventy-five percent of the population needs humanitarian assistance. Some parts of the country are experiencing their third or fourth consecutive year of flooding. There is also a shortage of medicine and medical supplies. Cases of malaria and waterborne diseases have increased. Conflict and insecurity exacerbate these conditions and threaten lives and livelihoods. More than 2 million South Sudanese have fled and remain outside of the country.
CRS is ensuring continued access to health, nutrition, food and clean water in some of the most remote parts of the country. Working with our local partners, we are reaching 3.2 million people in Uror, Ayod and Twic East counties in Jonglei State.
More than 6.5 million people are in need, and half of all children are expected to be acutely malnourished this year. The crisis has led to massive displacement and heightened conflict with more than 1 million people displaced. Livestock are dying and diseases like cholera are on the rise.
CRS is paying special attention to displaced communities and malnourished children. We have supported more than 70,000 people with health care, nutrition services, cash assistance, and clean water and hygiene supplies. CRS is expanding our capacity in Somalia, conducting assessments, positioning for scaled-up action, and adding offices in critical areas and staff members in relevant sectors. We are also preparing to implement long-term efforts around livelihoods, health and building resilience.
The Middle East and Central Asia
More than 8 million children in Yemen need emergency education support, with at least 2 million out of school and suffering from acute malnutrition. This is in the larger context of a humanitarian crisis that has devastated families across Yemen as an eight-year war has been waged between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the government, backed by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Eighty percent of the population is in urgent need of aid.
CRS is prioritizing efforts for health, employment, water and sanitation, and education. CRS has been supporting the training of young Yemenis—half of whom are women—to work in understaffed health facilities.
CRS also supports health facilities with improvements of infrastructure for water, sanitation, hygiene and waste. We are helping facilities to expand their mobile medical teams into hard-to-reach areas severely impacted by poverty and war.
And CRS will soon implement activities to ensure at least 3,000 children have access to education.
Afghanistan is recovering from the compounded impacts of a years-long drought and economic hardships brought on by the sudden transition in government in August 2021. These events led to displacement, widespread loss of employment and a grinding halt to the Afghan economy. Current estimates indicate that nearly 20 million people are facing severe food insecurity, including more than 6 million who are facing famine-like conditions. CRS has provided 218,000 people with cash assistance for food, work and livestock feed, in Ghor, Daikundi, Bamiyan and Herat provinces since October 2021. Additionally, CRS supports 1,082 community-based classes, benefitting approximately 26,100 girls and boys ages 7 to 14 across those four provinces. CRS is also supporting agriculture, livelihoods, water supply, sanitation, hygiene and direct food assistance.
Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a small, landlocked country in Southeast Asia with a population of over seven million people. Most of the Lao people live in rural, remote communities and face challenges when it comes to accessing essential services, like education and healthcare. As a result, 33% of children under the age of 5 in Lao PDR are stunted, and families there struggle to feed their growing children (World Food Program). Since 2007, CRS has been working in Lao PDR in partnership with the local government to help address inequality and alleviate poverty and hunger. Through McGovern-Dole Food for Education, a USDA-funded project, CRS has provided nutritious school meals to 40,000 students daily since 2016. CRS also teaches local cooks, storekeepers, and community leaders hygienic ways to store and prepare food.
For the past several years, Central America has been experiencing a drought that has destroyed crops and made it harder for families there to feed themselves and earn a living. In Guatemala, where almost half the population can't afford to put food on the table, CRS is providing ways to change that through Superamos, a U.S. government (USAID)-funded project that provides cash and food vouchers, and organizes agricultural fairs. With the cash and food vouchers, people are able to buy what they need while supporting local businesses and helping their local economy. The fairs that Superamos organizes help people like Maria Ramírez buy seeds, farming tools, fertilizer, and other items like baby chickens. These chicks not only provide eggs to eat, but also a source of income once they are old enough to be sold.
When they attend the Superamos fairs, members of the community can also attend demonstration sessions, where they learn to recognize the symptoms of acute malnutrition, how to select food, and prepare nutritious meals. CRS is also working across Guatemala to teach climate-smart farming techniques. By learning how to use their natural resources in the best way possible, farmers are ensuring their cropland will remain healthier for longer. This means more and better crops for their families and community.
How many people in the world are hungry?
An estimated 822 million people are undernourished. Of those, about 258 million are facing food insecurity at crisis levels or worse.
Isn't there enough food in the world to feed everyone?
Despite the fact that the world does indeed produce enough food to feed everyone, there are still millions of people going hungry. This is due to a number of factors, but the biggest factors are food loss and food waste. Food loss happens during the route from farm to table and food waste happens after it reaches your home, local market, or restaurants. According to the United Nations, 14% of all the food produced in the world is lost between harvest and retail because of things like poor storage, damage during transportation, and because it fails to meet the standards of some retailers. Food waste, on the other hand, most commonly occurs when people or restaurants overbuy food and it spoils, leading to them having to throw it out. While reducing food loss and food waste won't solve the problem of world hunger, it will drastically improve our ability to limit the number of people who go hungry.
What is a famine?
Famine is "an extreme lack of food and other basic needs" and happens when "starvation, death, destruction, and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels are evident" (Famine Early Warning Systems Network). In other words, famine is what happens when people don't have enough to eat for an extended period of time and it causes extreme physical detriment or death. By the time a famine makes headlines, it's too late to prevent severe hunger and death.
Who decides how much hunger there is?
Deciding when to declare a famine is usually a joint decision between the United Nations and a group called the "Famine Early Warning Systems Network," or FEWSNET. Using data collected from aid groups (like CRS), local governments, and satellites from U.S. organizations like NASA, FEWSNET decides where countries fall on their five-phase scale. This scale ranges from minimal (Phase 1) to famine (Phase 5). In order for a country to have a famine officially declared, the situation needs to meet three criteria: at least one in five households need to face an extreme lack of food, more than 30% of the country's population must be suffering from acute malnutrition, and at least two people out of every 10,000 must be dying each day from hunger.
What progress has been made to fight world hunger?
From 1990 to 2015, the world saw a steady decrease in the number of people who were going hungry, but since 2015, that number has slowly been back on the rise. In 2015, the World Food Program estimated that the number of people who were undernourished was 785 million. In 2018, that number was up to 822 million. That's not to say that it's all bad news. According to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the number of stunted children has decreased from 165 million in 2012 to 149 million in 2018, but it is evident that there is still work to be done to ensure no one goes to bed hungry.
What can I do to combat hunger?
The single most important fact about world hunger is this: You can help end it. You can start at home by shopping and eating locally, aiming to achieve zero food waste, and by joining CRS in the fight to end this crisis. It will take time to end world hunger, and a willingness to persevere in times of no apparent progress, or even in the face of setbacks, but it can be done. If you're not already a supporter, you can join CRS' Hunger Campaign. By joining this initiative, you can learn the best way to educate yourself, family and friends, as well as how to reach out to your congressional representatives and make your voice heard.
How much would it cost to end world hunger?
Estimates range anywhere from 7 to 265 billion U.S. dollars per year. This is such a dramatic range due to potential climate events, pest outbreaks, economic downturns, pandemics, and other factors that could cause the number of people suffering from hunger to fluctuate.