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Hunger and malnutrition: Our helping hand

Global hunger is one of the largest challenges the world community is faced with. Up to 828 million people suffer from hunger (status as of 2022). One child dies of hunger every ten seconds. Especially the people in several countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are affected by food and water shortages. Over 90 percent of all undernourished people live in Africa and in Asia. The number of starving people may have decreased by 216 million between 1990 and 2015, however in the years following the number started rising again. 10 million more people suffered from hunger alone between 2018 and 2019.

And the number continues to rise rapidly in 2022. The causes are manifold: the catastrophic effects of climate change, wars and conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic and skyrocketing prices for wheat, cooking oil, fertilizer and gasoline as a result of the Ukraine war. According to the United Nations, the number of severely food insecure people has already more than doubled since the outbreak of the pandemic, from 135 million people to 345 million (as of 2022).

Ending the hunger and malnutrition is thus a key goal of the international community: Goal 2 of the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations demands putting an end to hunger and all forms of malnutrition by the year 2030.

From hidden to acute hunger: The stages of malnutrition

Malnutrition occurs because of insufficient food intake or as a result of poor health and hygiene conditions.

One differentiates between three classes of hunger or malnutrition:

  • Acute hunger is the most extreme form of hunger and applies to eight percent of the starving worldwide. The undernourishment of the affected people constitutes a state of emergency over a limited period of time that occurs as a result of wars, catastrophes and droughts.
  • Chronic hunger is a state of permanent undernourishment, which is the most prevalent form worldwide and which is directly linked to poverty. The affected persons have no means for a healthy diet, clean water or sufficient healthcare provision.
  • Hidden hunger is a form of chronic hunger. It is caused by an unbalanced diet that results from a lack of nutrients. The long-term effects of hidden hunger are serious illnesses and an increased risk of death.


Child malnutrition

Around a quarter of all children worldwide are undernourished. In spite of the global progress in reducing the infant mortality rate over the past decades, an estimated 5.2 million children under the age of five died in the year 2019 – undernourishment and malnutrition are responsible for deaths of around half of these cases. A balanced and healthy diet in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life is extremely important. If children suffer malnutrition over this period of time, it can lead to impairments and delays in the physical and mental development of the child.

Malteser International is committed to fighting malnutrition in children. To this end, we advise mothers and families about a child-oriented nutrition, organise nutrition courses and workshops and provide undernourished children with supplementary food that is rich in vitamins.

More on the theme of child malnutrition

Causes of hunger

Poverty, natural disasters as well as wars and armed conflicts constitute the main causes for global hunger, which particularly affects economically weak countries and crisis regions.

Three quarters of all people suffering from hunger live in rural areas. As small farmers and pastoralists they produce their own food. Climate-related droughts, floods, desertification or soil erosion destroy the livelihood of many rural population groups: The fields dry up, the harvests are very poor which results in turn in menacing food shortages.

The agricultural infrastructure is also destroyed in many countries and the instable food situation that already exists in many economically weak countries is further fuelled by wars and armed conflicts. If the people are forced to flee due to the military conflicts, they are no longer able to tend to their fields. More than half of the starving worldwide live in conflict regions and are affected by food shortages.

Whilst crises that suddenly break out turn hunger into a state of emergency, caused by poverty hunger becomes a daily catastrophe. Lacking income opportunities and social protection systems lead to people not being able to afford food.

When does hunger start to become dangerous?

Together with various governmental and non-governmental organisations, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) by the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations has defined the five stages of a hunger crisis:



Affected countries (selection)

Stage 1

The food of the population is generally considered to be secure. Less than three percent of the people are undernourished.

Many industrial countries such as Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands

Stage 2

There is moderate food security. Less than ten percent of the people are undernourished.

South America, Asia

Stage 3

Regions where people have to worry about finding food on a daily basis. Here, between ten and 15 percent of the population suffer from acute malnutrition or undernourishment.

Eastern and Central Africa

Stage 4

The situation is considered to be a humanitarian emergency from the fourth stage onwards. More than 15 percent of the population suffer from acute malnutrition or undernourishment. Access to food is severely restricted.

Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Venezuela

Stage 5

The United Nations declares a famine, if at least 30 percent of the population are acutely undernourished, have less than 4 litres of water available a day, consume much less than 2,100 kilocalories a day and two out of ten thousand people die of starvation daily. Furthermore, large parts of the population have lost their entire livelihood and thus have no possibility of earning their own income.

Parts of South Sudan

Source: Aktion Deutschland Hilft

The consequences of hunger

If pregnant women suffer from malnutrition, the children cannot develop properly. The consequences are a weakened immune system and increased susceptibility for infections, which is directly linked to a higher mortality rate. In adulthood, reduced physical and mental performance capacities become apparent, which can lead to limited gainful occupation or unemployment.

In order to be able to pay for food, families in crisis situations have to sell large shares of their belongings and save on the education of their children and on health. As such, families fall even deeper into poverty. Children are often denied important educational opportunities in such situations. Hunger is thus not only a consequence of poverty, but also its cause, since it is passed on from generation to generation.

To interrupt this cycle and offer children better future prospects, we try to improve the access to sufficient and nutritional food in the course of manifold projects worldwide.

This is how we help people in hunger crises

In addition to providing food in acute crisis situations, we are also working towards sustainable food security within our aid projects, taking an integrated approach that includes water, sanitation and hygiene. Furthermore, we focus on the support of pregnant women and young children in order to combat malnutrition and undernourishment. As prevention measures, we support smallholder farmers and sustainable agriculture.

Healthy and secure food supply for people in need

"Zero hunger” – that is the second of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, which are to be achieved by the year 2030.

We also make an important contribution here in the scope of our worldwide aid projects. In order to fight hunger and malnutrition, Malteser International enables people living in poverty or crisis situations to have better access to food. In this way, we contribute to an improved health situation and strengthen the resilience of people affected by crises.

Our commitment for food security

Water, sanitation and hygiene

Every person has the right to have access to clean water and a safe sanitary provision in order to be able to lead a healthy and dignified life. This is why in the course of our work we strive to help people pursue this right and provide them with a sufficient supply of water.

Measures and programmes in the areas Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) constitute the basis of our worldwide aid projects. We support the people locally by building wells and latrines, building rainwater collection systems or by carrying out hygiene training.

Our commitment in WASH

Stories about our projects against hunger:

School gardens in South Sudan

In the scope of school gardens in South Sudan, we convey knowledge to children about how successfully and profitably vegetables can be grown.

Continue reading

Democratic Republic of the Congo: The treatment of undernourished children

Today, little Dorcas is much better. Six months ago, she was emaciated because she was severely undernourished.

Continue reading

The biggest famines of the past years

Poverty, extreme weather periods and armed conflicts are responsible for the biggest famines of the past years.

  • A famine was declared in South Sudan in the February of 2017, which still acutely affected around 45,000 people in January 2019.
  • In Yemen around 63,500 people are affected by the famine, half of the population is confronted with an insecure food supply. 400,000 undernourished children are fighting to survive.
  • In the Central African Republic, IPC estimates that 63,500 people are facing famine and half the population is food insecure.

Our projects against hunger:

Become active against hunger and undernourishment now!

We rely on financial aid for all measures in the affected countries. We need your help! Donate now!

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