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Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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poverty and trade > factfile > poverty and hunger

Poverty and hunger

Posted: 03 Aug 2004

Some 1.2 billion people in Africa, Asia and Latin America are materially poor, with incomes of less than a dollar a day. Many are jobless, voiceless and powerless, either landless or have tiny plots, If they work in the informal economy they are often underemployed. Women and girls make up 70 per cent of their number. They are poorly educated and in poor health, their housing and shelter are meagre and they have few resources. Their life expectancy is short and declining in some countries.

"Their destitution persists even though human conditions have improved more in the past century than in rest of history - global wealth, global connections and the technological capabilities have never been greater. But the distribution of these global gains is extraordinarily unequal". (World Bank).

  • Between 1987 and 1998, the number of the poor on the African continent increased from about 217 million to about 291 million. This means that 47 per cent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa are fully poor. (World Bank)

  • According to the United Nations Development Programme's 'Human Development Report 1996', the poor are generally worse off than 15 years ago, and, in some cases, poorer than they were 30 years ago. Globalisation has not helped them. Aid programmes designed for the poor have frequently done more to help the better-off.

  • The poverty of the poor means that most do not have enough land to grow the food they need, or the money to buy it. They may go hungry even when food is relatively plentiful in the area where they live. Nor do they generally have good access to social services such as education, reproductive health and family planning. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 815 million people are chronically hungry.


India has 208 million undernourished people, China 140 million, other Asia and Pacific countries 167 million, Sub-Saharan Africa 186 million, Latin America 55 million, Near East and North Africa, 36 million. While the largest number of chronically hungry people is in Asia, the depth of hunger is the greatest in Sub-Saharan Africa. Eighteen of the 23 countries facing the most severe problems in feeding their people are African. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Haiti, Mongolia and North Korea make up the list.

The minimum number of kilocalories that a person needs varies between 1,710 and 1,960 per day. Many of the chronically hungry people are short of more than 400 kilocalories a day.

Governments made a commitment at the 1996 World Food Summit to cut by half the number of chronically hungry people by 2015. Western governments have since cut their development aid to agriculture; in the 1990s this fell as a proportion of overall development assistance, "from about 20 per cent in the late 1980s to about 12 per cent today....the declining support for agriculture is extremely damaging to efforts to reduce poverty and hunger", says a UN International Fund for Agricultural Development report.

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