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Most undernourished countries

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DFID - UK Department for International Development // Wikimedia Commons

Most undernourished countries

The facts may be hard to read, but understanding the vast reach of hunger on humanity is key to understanding many factors of today’s global politics. According to the World Food Programme, “815 million people—one in ninestill go to bed on an empty stomach each night.”

Using statistics from OurWorldInData.org and various other NGOs, Stacker compiled the 30 countries with the most severe undernourishment. For the analysis, Stacker referenced the Global Hunger Index, a scale of 0 (no hunger) to 100 (starving). A score of 50 or above is defined as “extremely alarming”; 3550 as “alarming”; 2035 as “serious”; 1020 as “moderate”; and under 10 as “low.” Children’s health is also a strong factor in ranking, taking into account children under the age of 5 who are underweight for their age (undernourished), underweight for their height (wasting), or too short for their age (stunted growth). Food accessibility, regional climates, and geopolitical factors are outlined for each country to help explain the state of malnourishment among affected populations.

Read on to learn about the challenges facing the most undernourished countries in the world. 

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Tsidoti // Wikicommons

#30. Malawi

- Global Hunger Index: 27.2
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 20.7% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 16.7% (2014)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 42.4% (2014)

Malawi has faced a hunger crisis for decades, a series of floods and droughts largely blamed for lack of access to quality food. More recently, Malawi Agriculture Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha said that drought and crop-eating armyworms caused Malawi’s maize output to decline by more than 19% in the 2017–18 farming year.

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BigBrotherMouse // Wikicommons

#29. Laos

- Global Hunger Index: 27.5
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 18.5% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 26.5% (2011)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 43.8% (2011)

Despite the fact that the percentage of hungry people in Laos fell from 33% to 23% over the last decade, the small South East Asian country is still considered to be facing a serious food crisis. Laos’ issues with hunger have been attributed to its geography—the scattered and remote nature of thousands of small villages makes access to food very difficult. In addition, when low yields of rice on steep hillsides occur during the year, families who subsist on this staple don’t have enough to nourish themselves.

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TREEAID // Wikicommons

#28. Burkina Faso

- Global Hunger Index: 27.6
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 20.7% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 26.2% (2010)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 35.1% (2010)

Erratic rains in the past year have caused low crop yields in Burkina Faso, located in an already-arid area under the Sahara Desert. On top of this, those who would normally receive food aid will be hard to reach as the country faces unrest from a building Jihadist uprising.

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(stephan) // Wikicommons

#27. North Korea

- Global Hunger Index: 28.2
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 41.6% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 15.2% (2012)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 27.9% (2012)

Last year, the United Nations reported that in North Korea, “10.5 million people, or 41% of the total population, are undernourished.” This is likely due to the country’s political and economic isolation, and the many sanctions imposed by the rest of the world. Frequent flooding and drought have exacerbated the situation in the country, as well.  

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Jonathan Müller // Wikicomons

#26. Guinea

- Global Hunger Index: 28.6
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 16.4% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 16.3% (2012)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 35.8% (2012)

Guinea is one of the smallest African nations, but enjoys the highest GDP per capita income on the continent. Famine and hunger still plague Guinea’s residents, however. According to the World Food Programme, the malnutrition issues and food insecurity were exacerbated by the devastating Ebola outbreak in 2014.

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Ferdinand Reus // Wikicommons

#25. Mali

- Global Hunger Index: 28.6
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 5.0% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 27.9% (2006)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 38.5% (2006)

A mix of natural disasters, rising conflict and violence in Mali have contributed to its serious state of malnutrition and hunger. The country would see drought every 10 to 15 years in previous decades; however, there have been three in the past decade alone. Since 75% of the country feeds itself on subsistence drops, citizens rely heavily on the weather to produce their food for the year. The country is also still suffering the effects of the fighting between French forces and militant Islamist groups in 2013.

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Brian Harrington Spier // Wikicommons

#24. Tajikistan

- Global Hunger Index: 28.7
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 33.2% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 13.3% (2012)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 26.8% (2012)

Named the poorest former Soviet nation, Tajikistan faces a serious famine crisis. According to the WFP, consistently harsh winters and climate change make it hard for the country to grow crops, and only 7% of the land in Tajikistan is farmable to begin with. According to the Deputy Country Director in Tajikistan for the WFP, “Tajikistan is a landlocked country and a net importer of food, which means that the country has been particularly hard-hit by the high food and fuel prices."

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David Berkowitz // Flickr

#23. Tanzania

- Global Hunger Index: 28.8
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 32.1% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 13.6% (2011)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 34.8% (2011)

Reuters reported earlier this year that “Tanzanian think tank Twaweza found that 78% of people had suffered food shortages in the past three months,” Nevertheless, Tanzanian President John Magufuli has denied that there has been any sort of hunger crisis in his nation. The situation can in part be traced back to major drought conditions in East Africa, which have sent the price of staples such as maize and sorghum soaring. The price of maize has doubled over the last two years.

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ILRI // Flickr

#22. Mozambique

- Global Hunger Index: 30.5
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 25.3% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 15.6% (2011)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 43.1% (2011)

The WFP calls Mozambique “one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world,” with extreme weather not limited to drought and flooding near major river basins and “poorly-drained urban settlements.” This factor has in large part kept the country insecure in terms of access to food and ability to grow crops, especially when two-thirds of residents live in areas that are highly susceptible to cyclones and storms.

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gaborbasch // Shutterstock

#21. Guinea-Bissau

- Global Hunger Index: 30.6
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 20.7% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 17.0% (2014)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 27.6% (2014)

According to the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index (HANCI), which ranks a nation’s government’s willingness and work to fight famine, Guinea-Bissau ranks 44th out of 45, just surpassing Liberia. The Guardian also found that despite facing a hunger crisis, “Guinea-Bissau fails to invest in agriculture, despite committing to invest 10% of its budget in agriculture as part of the African Union's Maputo declaration.”

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Kertu // Shutterstock

#20. Djibouti

- Global Hunger Index: 31.4
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 15.9% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 29.8% (2012)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 33.5% (2012)

Despite having recently graduated from a low- to middle-income country, Djibouti’s natural disaster-prone desert climate still poses a problem for citizens buying food. The WFP estimates that about 90% of food in Djibouti is imported, prices for which reflect the foreign market. The organization also credits factors such as “structural poverty, insufficient access to water for agro-pastoral activities, lack of basic services such as health, education, and water and sanitation, inadequate social safety nets, limited employment opportunities and stresses from the influx of refugees.”

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PxHere

#19. India

- Global Hunger Index: 31.4
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 15.2% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 29.4% (2014)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 38.7% (2014)

India is home to a quarter of the undernourished people on Earth, though the country has recently been lauded for steady economic development. According to Smarinita Shetty, CEO and co-founder of India Development Review, there are many reasons for India’s widespread malnourishment, “...from women being the last to eat in the family (or not eating at all), to children having low birth weights when they are born, to lack of knowledge on good feeding practices, to widespread diarrhea which causes children to wither away [..]”  

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Antoshananarivo // Wikicommons

#18. Rwanda

- Global Hunger Index: 31.4
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 31.6% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 11.7% (2010)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 44.3% (2010)

Rwanda has faced tragic events over the last few decades that have led to enduring, widespread hunger. Much of the country’s troubles can be traced back to the devastating genocide in 1994, which disrupted much of the agriculture industry. Earlier this year, one of the worst droughts in the country’s history left more than 3,000 starving in Rwanda’s Eastern Province.

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Trocaire // Flickr

#17. Uganda

- Global Hunger Index: 32
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 25.5% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 14.1% (2011)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 33.7% (2011)

Uganda’s largely static economic growth has put a strain on the country, but the influx of refugees to the country from its neighbors South Sudan and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has caused food shortages. According to Action Against Hunger, its nearly 20-year conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army, “a violent opposition group that has terrorized the north” has also greatly exacerbated the crisis.

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A. Davey // Wikicommons

#16. Ethiopia

- Global Hunger Index: 32.3
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 32.0% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 25.2% (2014)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 40.4% (2014)

Climate instability has put Ethiopia’s food supply in critical condition, but according to the German NGO Menschen für Menschen, more aid and attention is being given to its neighbors instead. Ethiopia is still reeling from the effects of a devastating 2015 drought, the worst it had seen since 1984. The conditions caused the government to deplete many of its emergency food storage supplies, and the country has been struggling to catch up ever since.

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U.S. Department of State

#15. Angola

- Global Hunger Index: 32.5
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 14.2% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 15.6% (2007)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 29.2% (2007)

In 2013, it was estimated that between half a million and 800,000 people were affected by southern Angola’s drought. According to the director of the Angolan NGO Mbakita, “people who still have crops are not going to the fields because they are hungry or sick, and children are dropping out of school, partly due to hunger, but also because their parents are sending them off to find water for the animals.” Since then, the country has struggled to recover due to an influx of more than 300,000 refugees seeking asylum from the the influence of local militias in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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Pixabay

#14. Pakistan

- Global Hunger Index: 32.6
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 22.0% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 31.6% (2012)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 45.0% (2012)

Some blame Pakistan’s serious hunger issue on the misallocation of government aid funding. About 50 billion rupees were provided for two development programs, but according to the Express Tribune, funds were going to “parliamentarians’ schemes, like village electrification and provision of gas facilities” instead.

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Central Intelligence Agency // Wikicommons

#13. Afghanistan

- Global Hunger Index: 33.3
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 26.8% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 32.9% (2004)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 59.3% (2004)

The UN reported last month that more than two million Afghans are expected to become severely food insecure and need aid. According to Christopher Nyamandi, the Norwegian Refugee Council's (NRC) country director in Afghanistan, drought and unrelenting military conflict has severely affected citizens’ access to food. “Displaced people affected by the drought are prevented from reaching markets and aid due to the ongoing armed conflict,” said Nyamandi.

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USAID in Africa // Flickr

#12. Zimbabwe

- Global Hunger Index: 33.8
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 33.4% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 11.2% (2014)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 27.6% (2014)

The WFP reports that Zimbabwe’s low agricultural yield, as well as limited access to markets, has been devastating for citizens’ nutritional needs. In 2018, more than one million people “face food insecurity at the peak of the lean season.” The report also points to “widespread poverty, HIV/AIDS, limited employment opportunities, liquidity challenges, recurrent climate-induced shocks and economic instability” as contributing factors. Thankfully, earlier this year the WFP announced it would give $253 million to fund a five-year plan to end hunger in Zimbabwe.

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CDC Global // Flickr

#11. Haiti

- Global Hunger Index: 34.2
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 53.4% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 11.6% (2012)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 21.9% (2012)

The Global Sisters Report attributes massive unemployment around Haiti to its dire hunger crisis. The CIA World Factbook estimates that more than two thirds of the labor force is unemployed—about 40.6%. Without jobs and steady incomes, Haitians have difficulty feeding themselves and their families.

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yeowatzup // Wikicommons

#10. Timor

- Global Hunger Index: 34.3
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 26.9% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 37.7% (2013)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 50.2% (2013)

Lack of food is such a chronic issue in Timor that farmers call the period between November and February “hunger season,” as those families have usually sold or eaten most of what they produced before the March harvest. This season has been hard-hit by drought caused by El Niño in 2015 and 2016.

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Torsten Pursche // Shutterstock

#9. Niger

- Global Hunger Index: 34.5
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 9.5% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 37.9% (2012)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 43.0% (2012)

Niger’s population is growing quickly (about 4% a year), but the country continues to struggle with undernourishment. Conflict in the nation and surrounding areas has forced the displacement of citizens, a common cause of food insecurity. Violence around Lake Chad and Komadougou River in particular, a farming and fishing area also used as grazing grounds for livestock, has deprived many of their primary income.   

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Fabian Plock // Shutterstock

#8. Liberia

- Global Hunger Index: 35.3
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 31.9% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 15.3% (2013)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 32.1% (2013)

Not only is Liberia struggling to recover from a 14-year civil war, it was heavily impacted by the Ebola outbreak of 2014. The virus claimed thousands of lives, “collapsed the country’s health-care system, and attacked Liberia’s food supply,” according to The Washington Post. The WFP also suggests the outbreak caused the country’s economy to suffer.

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Aimee Brown/Oxfam // Flickr

#7. Sudan

- Global Hunger Index: 35.5
- Prevalence of undernourishment: not available
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 33.0% (2014)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 38.2% (2014)

Millions of South Sudanese have been affected by the four-year civil war, which has caused the economy to plummet, resulting in widespread displacement. According to The New York Times, “fighting has overcome some of the nation’s most productive land” and “food prices are ruinously high.”

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yeowatzup // Wikicommons

#6. Yemen

- Global Hunger Index: 36.1
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 26.1% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 39.9% (2013)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 46.8% (2013)

In the Arab world’s poorest country, 3.3 million people are severely undernourished. The situation is so dire that the UN’s humanitarian chief called Yemen “the worst humanitarian disaster in half a century.” Three years of war and destructive air raids between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to exiled Saudi President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi have created major food shortages and one of the worst cholera outbreaks in recent history.

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Rainer Lesniewski // Shutterstock

#5. Zambia

- Global Hunger Index: 38.2
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 47.8% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 14.8% (2013)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 40.0% (2013)

Droughts from El Nino combined with other natural disasters have made farming a difficult task in Zambia, but the Oakland Institute reports that the country’s malnourishment is directly linked to widespread poverty. About 70% of the population is classified as poor, and 58% is classified as “extremely poor.”

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Peirre-Yves Babelon // Shutterstock

#4. Madagascar

- Global Hunger Index: 38.3
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 33.0% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 36.8% (2004)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 49.2% (2009)

In Madagascar, the period between planting crops and the harvest takes up a larger portion of the year. The changing and erratic climate (drought, cyclones, floods) as well as the onset of pests like locusts has only worsened these lean seasons. According to Reuters, poverty is also tightly woven within these issues: “some 90% of Madagascar’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and almost half of children are chronically malnourished or stunted.”

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robertonencini // Shutterstock

#3. Sierra Leone

- Global Hunger Index: 38.5
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 22.3% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 18.1% (2013)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 37.9% (2013)

About half of Sierra Leone’s population is dangerously food-insecure. In addition to a violent 10-year civil war and ravaging Ebola outbreak, the WFP sees issues in the agriculture sector as a main cause of malnourishment. Only a fifth of the country is arable, and “agricultural output and development are constrained by labor shortages, lack of agricultural equipment, poor quality seeds and high post-harvest losses.”

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EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations // Flickr

#2. Chad

- Global Hunger Index: 43.5
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 34.4% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 28.8% (2015)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 39.9% (2015)

War, conflict and natural disasters in Chad have been unrelenting over the last 50 years, with about 87% of the population living in extreme poverty. Boko Haram’s jihadist war within Chad and its neighboring countries caused residents to flee the Lake Chad region, which previously served as fertile farming and fishing land. What’s more, Lake Chad has shrunk by about 90% since the 1960s, making it even harder for agriculture to thrive in the area.

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EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations // Flickr

#1. Central African Republic

- Global Hunger Index: 50.9
- Prevalence of undernourishment: 47.7% of population (2015)
- Children under 5 who are underweight for their age: 23.5% (2010)
- Children under 5 with stunted height for their age: 40.7% (2010)

The most undernourished country in the world is the Central African Republic, where half the population faces food shortages and daily hunger. According to Al Jazeera, the crisis took a dire turn in 2013, when Muslim Seleka fighters toppled the government, and Christian militias began to target the Muslim minority. This conflict drove up food prices (beef almost doubled in price) and the violence and looting “almost halved the number of cattle and reduced the number of sheep and goats by almost 60%.” More violence in 2017 has led to nearly one million displaced people, aggravating food insecurity among the citizens of CAR.

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