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Small Sips #4: Root Causes of Hunger

“We are facing hunger on an unprecedented scale, food prices have never been higher, and millions of lives and livelihoods are hanging in the balance. The war in Ukraine is supercharging a three-dimensional crisis – food, energy, and finance – with devastating impacts on the world’s most vulnerable people, countries, and economies. All this comes at a time when developing countries are already struggling with cascading challenges not of their making – the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and inadequate resources, amidst persistent and growing inequalities.” -- António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Root Causes
The root causes of hunger are many and varied, and they rarely occur in isolation. Instead, they overlap and interact, reinforcing each otherand making already difficult situations worse. Here are the leading drivers of hunger in the world today:

Hunger has always walked hand in hand with poverty. Without access to resources to grow food or access to sufficient and sustainable incomes, people cannot afford nutritious food.

The uneven distribution of hunger and malnutrition is rooted in inequalities of social, political, and economic power. When the world is unequal, access to nutritious food is not the same, and those marginalized within a community – such as women, displaced people and refugees, older persons, and those with disabilities – are more likely to face barriers to essential services, jobs, income, and resources. This inequality causes hunger, especially chronic hunger, which in turn deepens inequity.1

Armed Conflict and Political Instability
Conflict and instability disrupt harvests and supply chains, force families to flee from their homes, and hamper the delivery of humanitarian aid. People uprooted from their homes are among the most vulnerable to acute food insecurity and malnutrition

Climate Change and Natural Disasters
Climate change has a dramatic impact on the quantity and nutritional quality of food produced around the world. Natural disasters (such as the recent earthquake in Türkiye and Syria) and increasingly frequent and extreme weather events -- droughts, floods, fires, heatwaves, and other climate shocks – destroy crops, animals, homes, livelihoods, and civilian infrastructure, pushing whole communities deeper into hunger.

Economic Shocks and Rising Food Prices
For people already suffering from food insecurity and inaccessibility even before the pandemic, the ongoing economic crisis has worsened their situation. With the widespread loss of sources of income along with surging prices, nutritious food has become unaffordable for millions of families around the world. “High food prices are hunger’s new best friend. We already have conflict, climate and COVID-19 working together to push more people into hunger and misery. Now food prices have joined the deadly trio.” – Arif Husain, UN World Food Programme Chief Economist.

Food System Failures
The current industrialized global food system is failing us in many ways. With its heavy reliance on fossil fuels, synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones, it is a major contributor to climate change, air, soil and water contamination, poor soil health, and biodiversity loss. These serious environmental impacts pose critical challenges to agricultural production and food security. Wastage is also a major problem, with too much food being lost or wasted in every country every day. Fully 13% of the world’s food is lost in supply chains from harvest to transport to storage to processing, with a further 17% of total food wasted at the retail and consumer level.2  (When you do the math, this adds up to a staggering 30% of total global food gone to waste.) The pandemic and the current crisis in Ukraine have caused a breakdown in international supply chains, significantly impacting global food security, especially for lower-income countries that rely on food imports for many of their staple foods. In addition, the system is deeply rooted in inequality, with power and control concentrated among just a few large corporations.

A Global Food Crisis
In this critical moment in history, these multiple drivers of hunger have converged in an unrelenting series of shocks. According to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), the world is now facing a food crisis of unprecedented proportions. They are clear: we are not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating global hunger by 2030. Instead, the world is hungrier than ever before.

Dig Deeper… 

Inside the Global Food Crisis -- 7-minute video produced by the World Food Programme.

2023: Another Year of Extreme Jeopardy for those Struggling to Feed their Families -- the World Food Programme’s urgent call to action on the present food crisis.

[This is the fourth installment in GRAN’s Small Sips series on The Right to Food.]