19 Million Children Are Facing Extreme Hunger

After several decades of progress, the past 20 years have seen global hunger getting worse. COVID-19 is adding to the impacts of conflict and climate change to push millions of children across the world to the verge of starvation. 

In places like Yemen, South Sudan, and the Sahel, ongoing conflict has hindered families’ access to food for years. Across areas of East and Southern Africa, climate change has triggered harsher and more frequent droughts.

There’s no vaccine for hunger, but there is a solution if we act now. 

What Is Causing the World Hunger Crisis?

Hunger and malnutrition are devastating for children. Save the Children works in the hardest-to-reach places to address the root causes of hunger to ensure the most vulnerable grow up heathy and nourished.
A 9-year old girl sits with her baby sister who eats a food supplement on the floor of a home in DRC.

Every day, 9-year old Michelle* takes her baby sister to the health center in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo to receive food supplements. Both sisters only eat once a day. 

  • A persistent lack of access to nutritious food
  • Conflict and insecurity
  • A dramatic increase in food prices
  • A changing climate, extreme weather events and recent invasions of desert locusts
  • COVID-19 and its secondary impacts, including lockdowns, school closures and economic recession
  • Gender inequality
A child stands amongst the rubble in North West Syria A child stands amongst rubble after fleeing a fire caused by a volcano. A child from India looks at the camera wearing a mask for COVID-19 prevention

The Triple Threat Affecting World Hunger


How does conflict impact world hunger?

Conflict forces families from their homes, land and jobs. Today, 82.4M people have been displaced from their homes. Unable to find work, many families struggle to afford food for their children.

Conflict reduces access to food sources and significantly increases food prices. Armed violence and conflict-related instability destroy economies and disrupt agricultural production. Ten of the world's 13 worst food crises are driven by conflict.

As conflict and hunger intensify, children will be most affected. Children living in a conflict zone are over two times more likely to suffer from malnutrition compared to children living in a peaceful setting.


How does climate impact world hunger?

As temperatures rise, crop production becomes more difficult. Large numbers of people in some of the world's poorest regions depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Floods and droughts, which will continue to worsen due to climate change, can destroy crops and leave kids and families struggling for food.

Climate change is leaving families with less access to clean water to grow food One-quarter of the world's population - 1.8 billion people - live in water-stressed areas. This number is expected to grow to half the world's population by 2030.

Climate change can worsen the nutritional value of food. Recent studies show that higher carbon dioxide concentrations reduce the protein, zinc, and iron content of crops. By 2050 an additional 175M people could be deficient in zinc and an additional 112M people could experience protein deficiencies due to carbon dioxide rates caused by climate change. 


How does COVID-19 impact world hunger?

Access to food supplies and humanitarian relief is getting harder and harder. COVID-19's impact on food supply chains and humanitarian access is estimated to double the number of severely hungry people to 272M. This number is expected to rise as the pandemic continues to seriously affect global food systems.

Parents have lost their jobs and are struggling to afford food for their kids. Millions of people have lost their jobs due to the impact of COVID-19. Losses of income are expected to reach over $220B in poorer countries, meaning parents won't be able to provide food for their children.

School closures have had a huge impact on children's access to enough food. 370M children worldwide have missed 40% of in-school meals, on average, since COVID-19 restrictions caused disruption to their schooling.

Hunger Hotspots: 5 Countries to Watch in 2021

An estimated 11 million children under 5 are facing extreme hunger or starvation across 11 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, Middle East and Asia. But in these 5 countries, COVID-19, conflict and climate change could tip millions of families over the edge.

Afghanistan is on the front line of the hunger crisis. A third of the country is facing acute food shortages including more than 1.5 million children under 5. 

COVID-19, movement restrictions, inability to find work and rising food prices are also pushing this food crisis into urban areas at an unprecedented scale. Increasing insecurity and armed violence are only making things worse. 

In war-torn Yemen, 10.3 million children are facing food shortages. In just the southern half of the country nearly 587,600 children under 5 are suffering from acute malnutrition, including nearly 100,000 on the brink of starving to death. The situation in the north is also perilous.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) insecurity and conflict have had a devastating impact on people’s capacity to access food. 21.8 million people across this vast country are facing hunger, including nearly 4 million children under 5. 

A recent uptick in insecurity in the east is posing yet another challenge to food security in a country facing what is considered to be one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises in the world.

Children in South Sudan remain in serious peril because of the cumulative effects of years of conflict, flooding and a poor economy which have destroyed livelihoods, disrupted food production and markets, wrecked the economy and forced 4 million people to flee their homes. 

More than half of the population – 6.5 million – have faced food insecurity this year, including nearly 1 million children under 5. Some 300,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition – the most dangerous and deadly form of extreme hunger. The country is facing a potential risk of famine.

The countries of the Central Sahel (Burkina FasoMaliNiger) have for years been affected by the impacts of climate change, which has, in turn, disrupted availability and access to food and created the current nutrition crisis. 

In the last couple of years growing insecurity across the region has aggravated the problem by disrupting access to social services, food production and the pastoralist economy. 

Across these three countries, more than 650,000 children under 5 are facing severe hunger.

You Can Help Fight Child Hunger Around the World

Food insecurity and risk of potential famine in many countries is having a deep impact on children’s lives. Millions of hungry and malnourished children are in urgent need of your support. 

As a global leader for children during the COVID-19 crisis, our number one goal is fighting threats to child survival, like lack of nutritious food. But we can't do this important work without you. 

Help us fight child hunger so that all children everywhere can survive and thrive.


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