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World Nutrition and Poverty Eradication

Potato harvest
Pie chart: 14% of world population affected by malnutrition (963 millions), 23%-40% by poverty Bar chart: 4.7-5.0 million deaths per year, 20-40 million lives at risk Negative trends

World Nutrition

Sufficient food is needed for childhood growth, learning abilities, physical work, pregnancy, lactation, and resisting and recovering from disease. Chronic hunger leads to malnutrition, which is associated with a much higher risk of potentially fatal diseases (like malaria, diarrhoea or pneumonia).

Affected people and foundations of life: Even though there is enough food for everyone on Earth, in 2008 about 963 million people were undernourished, suffering chronic hunger. Most of them live in less developed countries, primarily in Asia and sub-Sahara Africa. (FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] 2008a.)


  • Roughly almost five millions per year, among them 3.5 million children under the age of 5 years:
      Maternal and child undernutrition were the underlying causes of about 3.5 million deaths of children under 5 in 2004 (Black et al. [and others] 2008, 243, 254; UNICEF [United Nations Children's Fund] 2008). These 3.5 million cases of under-5-mortality represent 70% to 75% of all death cases related to undernutrition, that amount to approximately 4.7 to 5.0 million children and adults per year (WFP [World Food Programme] 2004, 4; The Hunger Project; and own calculation).
      These figures do not yet reflect the surge in staple food prices since 2006, which already has increased undernourishment (FAO 2008, 1, and 2008a).
  • The highest death toll of the most severe famines in human history were 20 to 40 million lives (CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] 2008).

Loss of healthy life-years: 141 million healthy life-years annually in 2004 (DALYs [Disability-adjusted life years]), attributable to child underweight as a risk factor for diseases (Black et al. 2008, 254); no data on losses due to adults malnutrition.

Targets/goals: The UN (United Nations) World Food Summit and the UN Millennium Summit pledged the target to halve the number resp. (respectively) the proportion of undernourished people from 1990 to 2015:

  • reducing the number of undernourished people to half their present level no later than 2015 (adopted by the World Food Summit: FAO 1996; emphasis added)
  • to halve, by the year 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger (Millennium Target: UN 2000, § 19.1; emphasis added).

Because population growth affects the proportion, but not the number of the poor, the first target is the more ambitious one (FAO 2006, 4).

Trend: Within the last three decades, hunger-related deaths have been successfully reduced from around 41 000 to about 13 000 per day (The Hunger Project; sources quoted above). But since 2005 the number and even the proportion of the hungry have increased, mainly due to higher food prices (FAO 2008, 1). The price surge is mainly driven by a combination of the sharp increase in bio-fuels production, rising fuel and fertilizer costs, and declining global stocks; furthermore of price speculation, unfavourable weather conditions, rising meat consumption, and export restrictions (WB [World Bank] 2008d, 2). As a consequence, in 2007 undernourishment rose by 75 million people, and in 2008 by 40 million. Therefore the world has lost track to reach the 2015 Millennium Target and the World Food Summit Target. (FAO 2008, 1, and 2008a.)

Measures: Measures are to be continued and intensified, e. g. (for example) school meal programmes; food for work projects; providing access to productive resources such as land, water, seeds, knowledge, and credit; as well as combating environmental threats to food security. Regarding food prices it is recommended to provide seeds and fertilizer for the most affected countries, invest in rural agriculture, ease subsidies on bio-fuels from crops and accelerate the development of second generation cellulosic products, end export restrictions, and reduce producer subsidies and import tariffs sharply (WB 2008d, i [roman 1]). To assist 93.3 million beneficiaries in 2009 the UN World Food Programme has requested US$ (United States Dollar) 6.23 billion (WFP 2008, i). The reduction of the number of hungry by half until 2015 requires investment in poor countries of at least US$ 30 billion per year for reviving long-neglected agricultural systems and social protection of the poor (FAO 2008, 6).

Poverty Eradication

Poverty means insufficient conditions for survival, health and social inclusion. It is a main cause of hunger and other global challenges.

Affected people and foundations of life: About 2.60 billion people in the global South lived below the UN poverty line of a consumption level or income of US$ 2 per day in 2005. Among them, 1.40 billion people lived below US$ 1.25 per day, which is the line for extreme or absolute poverty. (WB 2008, 30, and 2008c; revised data in terms of 2005 purchasing power parity.) Most of the poor are women.
  The surge of staple food prices since 2005 resulted in an increase of extreme poverty by an estimated 130 to 155 million people until 2007 (WB 2008e, 12). These figures do not include the impacts of the increase in fuel prices. Food prices are expected to stay elevated for one decade (OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development]/FAO 2008, 32).
  As a risk factor, income poverty (below US$ 2 a day) has strong associations with inadequate water and/or sanitation (36%-51%), underweight children (23%-37%) and indoor air pollution (WHO [World Health Organization] 2004a, 2068f. [and following page]).
  Broader concepts of poverty include not only income, but also food insecurity, lack of access to health services and education, unemployment, etc. (and so on) In this scope the yearly death toll of 9.2 million children under 5 (UNICEF 2008) is often considered as attributed to poverty, just as the adults death cases in the less developed world caused by diseases, that are preventable by basic health interventions. Many of the global challenges described in this survey can be seen as related to poverty as the underlying, but not very specific issue (largely overlapping with other issues).

Targets/goals: to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty from 1990 to 2015 (Millennium Target: UN 2000, § 19.1).

Trend: After declining for decades, the number of the extreme poor has been rising since 2005 (WB 2008a, 20, and 2008b). There is an evident probability for not reaching the Millennium Target (WB 2008d, 5, 9). Under-5-mortality has declined in 2007 (UNICEF 2008).

Measures: Poverty reduction strategies should be continued or intensified, for example microcredits especially for women, fair trade, and employment initiatives especially for young people.


For numeric names the short scale is used:
1 billion = one thousand million = 109 = 1 000 000 000

DALYs: Disability-adjusted life years.
One DALY represents the loss of one year of equivalent full health. DALYs are the sum of the years of life lost due to premature mortality (YLL) in the population and the years lost due to disability (YLD) for incident cases of the health condition. (WHO 2004, 95f.)


Draft (2008)

This draft is to be reviewed by experts. Your hints are welcome, please use the contact form.

Photo credit: © FAO/F. Mattioli