Health and Nutrition Fund

The Problem of Hunger in Africa

Africa is home to over 1.3 billion people. And hundreds of millions of Africans live in extreme poverty.

Twenty-seven of the world’s 28 poorest countries are in Sub-saharan Africa,1 where the population is growing faster than any place on Earth,2 and each has a poverty rate of over 30 percent.1

The poverty in Africa is made worse by population density, gender inequality, war, political instability, economic slowdowns and downturns, class conflict, corruption, natural disasters, and disease (e.g., AIDS, ebola, and COVID-19), and when coupled with drought and famine, the countries in Africa are regularly dealing with acute food shortages and food crises.

Of the 18 countries identified in 2020 as global hotspots for crisis by the World Food Programme, 13 are located in Africa. This likelihood of increased violence, unrest, and other threats, increases the already widespread food insecurity in these countries.

Food insecurity is defined as not having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food that allows a person to remain healthy and lead an active life. Food insecurity affects about nine percent of the global population, with hundreds of millions of children experiencing hunger as a result.

One-fifth of the African population (256 million) are hungry, an increase of 44 million since 2014.3 Over the past 20 years, the prevalence of undernourishment has been highest in Eastern Africa and Central Africa because of issues with availability and access to food. However, since 2014, the prevalence of hunger has increased in Western and Central Africa, mostly as a result of armed conflicts, climate shocks, and economic forces.

Drought and Famine

Several regions of Africa have experienced severe lack of rainfall in recent decades, leading to famine and food shortages. Droughts have been especially concentrated in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Hunger in Ethiopia is now widespread after two years of drought, and according to USAID, 8.5 million Ethiopians are currently in need of food assistance.

Ethiopia has a history of drought in recent decades. So do many other east African countries, including South Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, and Kenya.

These countries are full of nomadic tribes and remote villages, many of whom survive as sustenance farmers. When rains fail, food doesn’t grow, and the rural areas lack the infrastructure to help their people get access to food.

Even in instances where food may be available, either by traveling to another location or by transporting food into the area of food insecurity, many of the people can't afford the food because they earn less than a $1.90 a day, the definition of poverty.

Hunger rates are also at crisis levels in Southern Africa. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 12 million people in Southern Africa were food insecure in 2019. But drought and famine are not the only cause of the hunger crisis in Africa. 

Infectious Diseases

Infectious disease disproportionately affects the poor, especially hungry children. Hungry children are more susceptible to illness and infection, as chronic malnutrition damages a child’s immune system.

Without access to medical services or health care hungry children are often unable to get treatment, and even if treatment is available, it’s unlikely their families can afford it. This leads to treatable (and sometimes preventable) diseases becoming fatal.

Armed Conflict

Africa's many wars and frequent armed conflicts have damaged local food resources, as crops and fields get plundered, burned, and ravaged as part of the fighting. This fighting is the primary cause of refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDPs), people who are displaced within the borders of their own country.

Refugee and IDP camps where people seek safe shelter from the conflicts usually rely on the United Nations and other aid groups for food and health assistance. Without this help, adult and child malnutrition can quickly become an issue in the camps.

A History of Hunger and Famine in Africa

  • 1966 to 1967 — Biafran Famine: During Biafra’s secession war from Nigeria, a blockade was established by Nigeria. As many as 2 million civilians died from starvation caused by the stalemate. This famine was the first to be publicized by mass media in Western countries.
  • 1970s to 1980s — The Sahel Drought: The Sahel is the transitional zone between the Sahara Desert and the humid savanna. A drought in the Sahel region from the late 1960s to the 1980s created poor grazing conditions for cattle, which resulted in famine. Over 1 million people starved in Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
  • 1983 to 1985 — Ethiopia Famine: The 1980s Ethiopia famine was one of the worst humanitarian events of the 20th century. Recurring drought and failed harvests combined with civil war resulted in an estimated 1 million starvation deaths.
  • 1991 to 1992 — Somalia Famine: Due to drought and civil war, many Somalis were unable to produce or receive food. The resulting famine took the lives of 350,000.
  • 1998 to 2000 – Eritrean-Ethiopian War: A border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea killed or wounded many citizens and used precious economic resources. The war’s destruction combined with three consecutive years of drought led to the loss of livestock, population displacement and malnutrition. An estimated 10 million persons were placed at risk of starvation.
  • 1998 to 2003 — The Second Congo War: Known as Africa's World War, the Second Congo War was the widest interstate war in modern African history. Nearly 4 million Africans died during the conflict, mainly from starvation and disease.
  • 2005 to 2006 – Niger Food Crisis: In 2004 a severe drought and locust invasion destroyed up to 100% of the crop in regions of Niger. More than 3 million people were left short of food, and many became malnourished and vulnerable to disease.
  • 2011 to 2012 — East Africa Famine: A severe drought across East Africa caused the famine in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and other neighboring countries, resulting in an estimated 285,000 deaths.
  • 2015 to 2016 — El Niño Drought: One of the strongest El Niños on record created a severe drought in southern and eastern Africa. The drought damaged crops, causing food insecurity for more than 50 million people.
  • 2020 – COVID-19 Lockdowns: During COVID-19 lockdowns, many laborers lost their means of income. Additionally, the response time to humanitarian crises, such as locust invasions, was slowed. Up to 80 million Africans will fall into extreme poverty, and the World Food Programme warns of a global famine

Helping Hungry Children in Africa

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of hunger and malnutrition. Our Health and Nutrition Fund helps feed and care for millions of children affected by poverty, regardless of whether they are in Africa, Asia, South America or Central America. By helping meet the life-threatening needs of hungry children, while also providing preventative care to support long-term wellness, our Health and Nutrition Fund provides the means for our frontline church partners to identify acute food issues, chronic child malnutrition, physical food needs, and other family food crises. 

By giving to our Health and Nutrition Fund, you are providing supplemental food, vitamins and medical care to malnourished children in all the countries we work in, and are supporting our therapeutic feeding and food stability initiatives for infants and newborns.

Your donation will safeguard hungry children in Africa and other countries from illnesses that hamper their development and threaten their lives. Make a donation today!

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1 Patel, Nirav. “Figure of the Week: Understanding Poverty in Africa.” Brookings, Brookings, 21 Nov. 2018,

2 "Population, Total - Sub-Saharan Africa." Data,

3 FAO, ECA and AUC. 2020. Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2019. Accra.


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