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Hunger is a term which has three meanings (Oxford English Dictionary)
- the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food; craving appetite. Also the exhausted condition caused by want of food
- the want or scarcity of food in a country
- a strong desire or craving
World hunger refers to the second definition, aggregated to the world level. The related technical term is either malnutrition, or, if malnutrition is taken to refer to both under-nutrition and over-nutrition, under-nutrition. Both malnutrition and under-nutrition refer to not having enough food.
Malnutrition (or under-nutrition) is a general term that indicates a lack of some or all nutritional elements necessary for human health (Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia).
There are two basic types of malnutrition. The first and most important is protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). It is basically a lack of calories and protein. Food is converted into energy by humans, and the energy contained in food is measured by calories.
Protein is necessary for key body functions including provision of essential amino acids and development and maintenance of muscles. This is the most lethal form of malnutrition/hunger and is the type of malnutrition that is referred to when world hunger is discussed.
The second type of malnutrition, also very important, is micro-nutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency. This is not the type of malnutrition that is referred to when world hunger is discussed, though it is certainly very important.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world, or one in eight, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012. Almost all the hungry people, 852 million, live in developing countries, representing 15 percent of the population of developing counties. There are 16 million people undernourished in developed countries (FAO 2012).
The number of undernourished people decreased nearly 30 percent in Asia and the Pacific, from 739 million to 563 million, largely due to socio-economic progress in many countries in the region. The prevalence of undernourishment in the region decreased from 23.7 percent to 13.9 percent.
Latin America and the Caribbean also made progress, falling from 65 million hungry in 1990-1992 to 49 million in 2010-2012, while the prevalence of undernourishment dipped from 14.6 percent to 8.3 percent. But the rate of progress has slowed recently.
The number of hungry grew in Africa over the period, from 175 million to 239 million, with nearly 20 million added in the last few years. Nearly one in four are hungry. And in sub-Saharan Africa, the modest progress achieved in recent years up to 2007 was reversed, with hunger rising 2 percent per year since then.
Developed regions also saw the number of hungry rise, from 13 million in 2004-2006 to 16 million in 2010-2012, reversing a steady decrease in previous years from 20 million in 1990-1992 (FAO 2012).
The above is based on the new estimates of world hunger by the FAO using revised procedures. It is worth noting that the new estimates give a different answer than the old estimates as the graph below shows (Lappe, 2013). Read more…
Why do a billion people still live in poverty worldwide, and what can be done to change this? The series Why Poverty? uses documentary film to get people talking about this global problem, its causes, and its solutions.