Hunger in Africa: facts, causes, consequences

Children in the sub-Saharan region are particularly affected

One in four people in sub-Saharan Africa is starving. Especially the children suffer. Chronic hunger due to extreme poverty is a major cause of high infant mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2017, famine is also starting in several African countries.

Is the little one too thin? One third of children in Africa suffer from the consequences of chronic malnutrition. Photo: Sylvain Cherkaoui

Current hunger crises: wars and droughts

At the same time, hunger crises are escalating at several hot spots: in four countries, three of them in Africa, a total of 20 million people, including countless children, are at risk of starvation . The four crisis regions, all suffering from the consequences of armed conflicts, are:

  • Nigeria: The ferocious terror of the Boko Haram militia has triggered a mass exodus in northeastern Nigeria. When the Nigerian army recaptured the Boko Haram area in 2016, the scale of the refugee and hunger crisis began to become apparent.
  • Somalia: The country in the Horn of Africa is marked by decades of civil war and anarchy. Now Somalia is again hit by a devastating drought. This is even more dramatic than during the 2011/2012 famine.
  • South Sudan: In the north of the civil war country South Sudan famine prevails: On 20.2.2017, the United Nations officially proclaimed the hunger emergency. The conflict, which has been raging for years, leaves fields fallow and blocks aid deliveries.
  • Yemen: The "poor house" of the Arab world is the only non-African country that is currently threatened by a famine. Since 2015, Yemen has been shaken by a civil war. Hunger is used as a weapon against the civilian population.
  • In addition, people in many African countries are currently suffering from the effects of the weather phenomenon El NiƱo: droughts or torrential rains destroy crops, kill cattle and lead to starvation.

    In 2017, 37 countries, including 28 in Africa, depend on food aid , according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). These countries are: 
    Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, DR Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea,, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Yemen, Cameroon, Kenya, Congo, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique , Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Syria, Chad, Uganda and Central African Republic.

    But the United Nations lacks the money to finance the much-needed aid to millions of hungry people: donations made by the international community have not yet been made.

    Famine and chronic hunger

    Famines are acute food crises after drought or due to armed conflicts and the worst form of food shortages. In addition to old people, especially babies and small children are threatened with starvation. According to the United Nations (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification) definition, there is a famine if at least:

  • 20 percent of households suffer from extreme food shortages,
  • 30 percent of the population are acutely malnourished,
  • Two out of 10,000 people or four children die daily from food shortages.
  • One of the worst hunger casks of the past 25 years was the famine in East Africa in 2011/12 . In civil war Somalia 260,000 people starved to death, including 133,000 children under the age of five.

    Sub-Saharan Africa is also a hotbed of chronic hunger due to extreme poverty. According to the definition of the FAO, people suffer from chronic hunger if their daily energy intake for a longer period of time is below what they would need for a healthy and active life. The lower limit is an average of 1800 calories per day. 
    According to that, 226.7 million people are starving in Africa. Affected by extreme poverty and hunger in Africa are mainly the countries located south of the Sahara. One in four suffers from hunger there - which means that the share of the world's hungry is highest in sub-Saharan Africa .

    In the region, 40% to 50% of people live below the poverty line, meaning they have a daily income that is on average below $ 1.25. This means that sub-Saharan Africa, along with southern Asia, is one of the poorest regions in the world.

    Malnutrition and high infant mortality

    Children are particularly affected by the hunger in Africa. Malnutrition leads to physical and mental developmental disorders and is a major cause of high infant mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • According to UN data, 165 million children worldwide are too young for their age due to chronic malnutrition ("stunted"). Three quarters of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, 40 percent of children are affected, in South Asia, 39 percent.
  • 3.2 million children under the age of five die each year in sub-Saharan Africa - that's about half of the world's deaths in this age group.
  • Nearly every second death in children under the age of five is due to malnutrition worldwide. As this weakens the immune system, diseases such as pneumonia, malaria or diarrhea often lead to death.
  • For example, the sub-Saharan child mortality rate is one of the highest in the world, with one in nine children dying before the age of five, and one in every six children in Sierra Leone. Especially young children die in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    The hunger in Africa has many causes

    The reasons for the hunger in Africa are complex and by no means, as often assumed, are the lack of agricultural productivity and the difficult climatic conditions. Sub-Saharan Africa has millions of hectares of fertile soil. The African continent could feed itself. However, several factors prevent a self-sufficient development and a victory in the fight against hunger in Africa:

  • Population growth: In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people is growing rapidly, but food production is not keeping up.
  • Unfair trading structures: EU and US subsidize domestic agriculture, African farmers are not competitive with cheap food imports.
  • Debt trap and mismanagement: The high level of indebtedness of many African countries as well as poor governance and corruption are blocking economic development. Mass poverty and hunger are the consequences.
  • Diseases: The extent of the AIDS epidemic or even malaria inhibit agricultural production in Africa and take the breadwinners from families.
  • Armed conflicts: Africa is a continent of trouble spots. Most wars worldwide rage south of the Sahara. Refugee misery and hunger are the companions.
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  • Fight against hunger in Africa - UN Millennium goal narrowly missed

    In 2000, the 55th UN General Assembly, the Millennium Summit, took place in New York. On September 9, 2000, the 189 UN member states adopted a declaration with the UN Millennium Goals. Thus, the proportion of malnourished people should be halved by 2015. However, this sub-goal was narrowly missed. One in eight people in developing regions is starving today (12.9 percent in 2014-2016). This is due in particular to the fact that the population is growing strongly in sub-Saharan African countries.

    The fight against hunger remains one of the biggest challenges facing the world community. By 2030, the United Nations wants to end hunger. This was enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the UN adopted in 2015 as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals.

    Successes and regression in the fight against hunger in Africa

    The efforts to counteract hunger in Africa have been marked by significant successes, but also by devastating setbacks.

    The most important achievements include:

  • Greater political stability in former civil war countries
  • Economic growth of the sub-Saharan region
  • Progress in the fight against HIV, AIDS and malaria
  • Reduction of the infant mortality rate
  • Decreases in the fight against hunger in Africa include:

  • Crop failure due to climate change and environmental degradation
  • Worldwide rising food prices and food speculation
  • Humanitarian crises due to armed conflicts in northern Mali, northern Nigeria and southern Sudan
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  • SOS Children's Villages help the hungry in Africa

    The SOS Children's Villages are active in 47 African countries. In the current 147 children's villages on the continent, orphaned and abandoned children find a home that would otherwise be in acute danger of starvation and malnutrition. In the fight against hunger in Africa, SOS is also involved in long-term development projects and humanitarian aid:

  • Family strengthening programs: Starving families are supported by self-help projects.
  • Emergency aid : The SOS Children's Villages provide emergency relief for hunger crises and famine so frequently in Somalia , Nigeria , South Sudan , Ethiopia and Malawi. Other examples of recent SOS emergency actions are: 2005 and 2010 in Niger, 2011/2012 in East Africa and 2012 in the Sahel.