Where are the 11 hungriest countries in the world?

Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Haiti, Niger, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, Yemen, April 3, 2017

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Emergency alert

Over 20 million people in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and Nigeria are on the brink of famine. In South Sudan alone, 9,000 people lose access to food every day. Your help is urgently needed to respond to these crises and others around the world.

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  • More than 5 million people will face life-threatening hunger in South Sudan this year. Mercy Corps is responding to this crisis and others around the world to help people meet their urgent food needs. PHOTO: Jennifer Huxta for Mercy Corps

Editor's note: This article was originally published April 3, 2017; it was updated April 28, 2018 to reflect the latest information.

Hunger knows no borders. It touches people in war-torn cities and rural villages; in vast, empty deserts and on tropical islands.

Hunger can’t be boiled down to one cause or constrained by one geography. It requires a holistic approach — a willingness to look at all the factors, and anticipate tomorrow’s needs while still meeting today’s.

That’s why Mercy Corps focuses on the root causes that drive it: things like conflict, climate change and poverty.

To see why, you only have to look at the Global Hunger Index (GHI), an annual ranking of the hungriest places in the world. Of the 11 countries at the bottom of the list, all have widespread poverty and most are experiencing ongoing conflict.

What are the 11 hungriest countries?

11. Haiti
10. Timor-Leste
9. Niger
8. Liberia
7. Sudan
6. Yemen
5. Zambia
4. Madagascar
3. Sierra Leone
2. Chad
1. Central African Republic

Read on to see where hunger hits the hardest and learn how Mercy Corps is helping people around the world build a future where everyone has enough to eat.

A devastating hunger emergency

Due to insufficient data, 13 countries are not included on the GHI for 2017, including nine that are identified as being cause for significant concern: Burundi, the Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Libya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria.

Mercy Corps works in five of these countries — the DRC, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria — to help people meet their urgent food needs, including in places currently experiencing a devastating hunger crisis.

The statistics are overwhelming: After seven years of war in Syria, more than 13 million people inside the country need humanitarian assistance. In the DRC, more than 9 million people are severely food insecure and need emergency aid. More than 3 million people in Somalia cannot meet their daily food needs and 1.2 million children are expected to be malnourished this year, while more than 5 million people in South Sudan are expected to face life-threatening hunger this year.

Get the quick facts about the Syria crisis ▸

Two of the four countries facing credible risk of famine this year are not included in the index: South Sudan and Somalia. The other two countries at risk, Nigeria and Yemen, are included in the GHI but aren’t classified as “extremely alarming” when compared to other countries, given the inequality and timing of their crises. In Nigeria, for example, the risk of famine is concentrated in conflict-affected areas of the northeast, while the rest of the country faces minimal food-security concerns.

Get the quick facts about famine ▸

Mercy Corps is working hard to deliver lifesaving aid in these countries so people can meet their urgent needs. Learn more about our work and how you can help us respond to these crises here.

11. Haiti

To help Haiti recover from two major natural disasters, Mercy Corps is promoting economic opportunity and more sustainable agriculture. PHOTO: Fabiola Coupet/Mercy Corps

How bad is hunger in Haiti?

Half the country’s population — more than 5 million people — is undernourished.

What are the causes of hunger in Haiti?

The January 2010 earthquake dealt a devastating blow to a country where 50 percent of people half the population lives on less than $1 a day. Still struggling to rebuild (and recover from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew), many families are hungry and have no means to support themselves. Harmful environmental practices have also damaged the country's vital agricultural land, decreasing production and leading to increased food insecurity.

What work is being done to help?

Mercy Corps' long-term approach in Haiti focuses on economic opportunity, agriculture and the environment. We are helping families start new businesses, training young people with job skills, teaching farmers to diversify their gardens, and empowering women to strengthen their families.

10. Timor-Leste

In the face of a changing climate, Mercy Corps trained rice farmers in Timor-Leste to grow tilapia, allowing them to feed their families and make more money. PHOTO: Miguel Samper for Mercy Corps

How bad is hunger in Timor-Leste?

Only 16 years old, Timor-Leste is a young country, but its hunger problems run deep. Nearly half its population is poor, and more than 50 percent of children under 5 are stunted.

What are the causes of hunger in Timor-Leste?

The country’sIts financial sector is underdeveloped, and climate change posts a serious threat: drought, flooding and landslides often occur at the same time. Eighty percent of Timor’s people rely on agriculture for food and income.

What work is being done to help?

Mercy Corps’ approach focuses on agriculture, economic opportunity and the environment. We’re helping farmers like Lino adjust to climate change, promoting clean energy so girls like Lourdes can build a stronger future, and supporting small businesses that can create new jobs.

9. Niger

Mercy Corps is teaching rural women in Niger how to grow stronger crops to get their families through the lean season. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

How bad is hunger in Niger?

Almost 20 percent of its people do not have the food they need, and over 40 percent of children under 5 are chronically malnourished.

What are the causes of hunger in Niger?

Life in Niger can be extreme. Ranked near the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index, Niger faces several major challenges: its population is 80 percent rural, and nearly half of all Nigeriens live below the poverty line. The annual dry season all but halts food production every year and forces many people to leave the country to find work. Meanwhile, ongoing attacks from insurgent groups like Boko Haram are driving violence and displacement.

What work is being done to help

When hunger is this deeply ingrained in a community, it takes an integrated approach that touches all aspects of a community. Mercy Corps’ approach in Niger touches all aspects of a community: We are teaching new farming methods and technologies, helping people save money through community savings groups, empowering girls like Dahara to start new businesses and build a future, improving access to veterinary services, and training women to make their communities healthier.

8. Liberia

A woman prepares traditional greens in Liberia. PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

How bad is hunger in Liberia?

Over 80 percent of people live on less than £1 a day. Almost half of its population is considered food insecure, and a third of children are malnourished.

What are the causes of hunger in Liberia?

The 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa hit Liberia hard, killing over 4,800 people, devastating the lives of thousands more and wreaking havoc on the country’s economy. Even though it’s been two years since the outbreak ended, the economic impacts continue to threaten the progress the country has made in its recovery from a prolonged civil war that ended in 2003.

What work is being done to help?

To speed economic recovery and help families overcome the lingering effects of this crisis, Mercy Corps is distributing emergency food and providing seeds, tools and cash so people can restart their livelihoods and purchase food and supplies.

7. Sudan

How bad is hunger in Sudan?

Some 3.5 million people in the country need assistance, and almost half of the population lives in poverty.

What are the causes of hunger in Sudan?

Sudan is up against high inflation, a shrinking economy, student protests and protracted conflict, as well as stiff American sanctions and genocide charges related to Darfur. The independence of South Sudan in 2011 resolved years of civil war, but clashes continue to arise between Sudan and its new neighbour.

This conflict and the El Niño weather phenomenon have left millions without enough food to eat.

What work is being done to help?

Mercy Corps is working hard to support returnees and vulnerable host communities, connecting farmers to the agricultural tools, seeds and information they need to grow enough food to feed themselves and have enough left to sell in the local market. We are also drilling, repairing and maintaining critical water points, and supporting communities’ capacity to spur local economic development and alleviate poverty.

6. Yemen

Yemen is one of four countries facing a serious food emergency that has put millions of lives in danger. PHOTO: Cassandra Nelson for Mercy Corps

How bad is hunger in Yemen?

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East, and one of the four countries at risk of famine. Today, 17.8 million Yemenis — over half the population — do not have enough to eat. More than 8 million people need urgent assistance for food and about 1.8 million children and 1.1 million pregnant or lactating mothers are suffering from acute malnutrition.

What are the causes of hunger in Yemen?

Yemen imports 90 percent of its food supply, but prolonged conflict has disrupted trade and continues to prevent families from getting the food they need to survive. Even before the current crisis, around half the population lived below the poverty line, and the country faced chronic instability, weak governance, underdevelopment and unemployment.

What work is being done to help?

Mercy Corps is on the ground in Yemen providing urgently needed items like food, water and sanitation supplies, as well as cash assistance where possible. Learn more about this emergency and what you can do to help.

5. Zambia

How bad is hunger in Zambia?

Unlike other countries on the list, Zambia is politically stable and has seen years of economic growth. Yet it has struggled to make any consistent gains in the fight against hunger. More than 60 percent of Zambians live in poverty and 40 percent of children under 5 are stunted.

What are the causes of hunger in Zambia?

Zambia’s goal is to become an industrious middle-income country by 2030. But more than 4 out of every 10 people are considered extremely poor, and 1 out of every 5 children is an HIV/AIDS orphan. In the face of serious health and economic challenges, Zambia illustrates why we have to work broadly to solve hunger.

What work is being done to help?

In countries like Zambia that depend heavily on subsistence farming, Mercy Corps focuses long-term on promoting economic development, improving child and maternal health, and helping farmers grow more food to feed their families.

4. Madagascar

How bad is hunger in Madagascar?

Almost half the children in Madagascar are malnourished — the fourth-highest rate in the world.

What are the causes of hunger in Madagascar?

Madagascar has a unique and vibrant ecosystem, yet it also has a fundamental problem: 90 percent of its population lives on less than $2 a day. The country is also vulnerable to serious climate shocks, which are a major driver of hunger around the world.

What work is being done to help?

Mercy Corps is committed to helping communities adapt to a changing climate: In places like Ethiopia, Indonesia and Nepal, we integrate climate change into all our programming, helping farmers manage limited water supplies and better care for their land.

3. Sierra Leone

How bad is hunger in Sierra Leone?

Nearly 50 percent of the entire population is food insecure, but one of Sierra Leone’s most tragic problems is child malnutrition, which causes almost half of all child deaths.

What are the causes of hunger in Sierra Leone?

Despite recent economic growth, Sierra Leone is still recovering from the ravages of civil war and a recent Ebola outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people in west Africa. It also shares a common problem among hungry countries: more than 75 percent of its population earns its income from agriculture and can’t make enough money to afford proper food or medicine.

What work is being done to help?

The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are critical. That’s when the body and brain are growing most rapidly, and proper nutrition is vital. In countries like Ethiopia, Guatemala and Niger, Mercy Corps focuses on proper infant care and nutrition — including exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months — so mothers can start their children on the right track.

2. Chad

How bad is hunger in Chad?

With a soaring rate of poverty, Chad has one of the highest levels of hunger in the world. Approximately 40 percent of children under 5 are stunted from malnourishment.

What are the causes of hunger in Chad?

Being a farmer in Chad is almost impossible. This landlocked, arid African nation is prone to devastating droughts and crippling locust infestations. A staggering 87 percent of Chad’s rural population lives below the poverty line, struggling to make it day-to-day in one of the hardest places on earth.

But Chad’s problems are made worse by an increasing number of refugees fleeing violence at home. Almost 400,000 refugees have fled to Chad from Sudan, Central African Republic and Nigeria. The Lake Chad crisis is one of the world’s untold emergencies, with hundreds of thousands of people facing devastating hunger.

What work is being done to help?

Conflict is one of the major drivers of hunger around the world. It handicaps food availability, forces families from their homes, and severely stresses host communities. It’s one of the main reasons solving hunger in Africa takes so much more than food. Our work across the continent strives to help people tackle food insecurity at its source, with things like better farming practices, empowered women and safer, more cohesive communities.

1. Central African Republic

Central African Republic has one of the world's most serious food emergencies. Mercy Corps is working with community organizations to give families a stronger future. PHOTO: Jenny Bussey Vaughan/Mercy Corps

How bad is hunger in the Central African Republic?

The hunger crisis in Central African Republic is one of the world’s most serious emergencies. It has the lowest ranking on the UN’s Human Development Index and a fragile economy that has left 2.5 million people food insecure — half of its population.

What are the causes of huger in Central African Republic?

Plagued by poor governance and corruption, the country has been trapped in a cycle of conflict and underdevelopment for years.

What work is being done to help?

Despite the challenges the country faces, we still see a brighter future there. Mercy Corps is training vulnerable people to earn and save money to make their families more resilient. We’re also working with community organizations to monitor human rights, engage marginalised groups, and better manage the disputes that make people so vulnerable.

Get involved

PHOTO: Sean Sheridan for Mercy Corps

Great progress has been made to alleviate hunger around the world, but there is still so much work to be done. We need your help.

  • Donate today. Every single contribution helps us meet urgent food needs and help families around the world build a stronger, healthier future.

  • Sign the petition. Tell Congress not to cut international aid. Around the world, people are in need of lifesaving assistance—including those affected by famine. We must continue to support them.

  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page or Twitter page to spread the word about the millions who need us.