The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One in every nine people in the world is still chronically hungry

There's plenty of food, but not everyone is being fed. (Pat Roque/AP Photo)

The good news is that there are 200 million fewer people suffering from undernourishment today than there were 20 years ago. The bad news is that more than 800 million are still chronically hungry.

The latest Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates, which were included in a new report released Tuesday by the United Nations, found significant declines in the number of hungry people around the world, including more than 100 million people over the past decade alone. The global rate of undernourishment has fallen from just under 19 percent to just over 11 percent since 1992, and from 23.4 to 13.5 percent in developing countries, over the same period.

Latin America and the Caribbean, a region that has historically been plagued by hunger, has made particularly impressive progress in its efforts to eradicate hunger—the number of undernourished people living in the region has fallen nearly by half, from 69 million to 37 million, since 1992. Asia made considerable strides, too—the number of hungry people living in the region has fallen by more than 215 million over the same period. In China alone the number has fallen by 138 million.

In percentage terms, some of the improvements are even more encouraging. In Southeast Asia, for instance, nearly a third of the population suffered from chronic undernourishment between 1990 and 1992, but that share has since fallen to just over 10 percent. And in Latin America, it has fallen from 14.4 percent to 5.1 percent over the same period.

But the reality, however improved, is still grim.

"Despite overall progress in developing countries as a whole, large differences remain across regions," the report says, pointing to large swaths of Asia and Africa that are still plagued by chronic hunger. In Sub-Saharan Africa more than 200 million are still undernourished,  nearly 40 million more than 20 years ago. And Asia, despite its progress, is still home to 526 million people who are chronically hungry—more than two-thirds of the total number globally.

Globally, declines in hunger have fallen short of targets in both raw number and percentage terms.

Curbing world hunger is not merely a matter of producing more food, because insufficient food isn't actually the issue—there is enough food to feed all seven billion people living in the world today.

The reasons hunger exists are instead more closely tied to infrastructural shortcomings, which have made problems like natural disasters, war, displacement, poverty, and wastage more difficult to overcome. The UN delineates the symptoms of such issues on its website.

Hunger exists because of conflict and war, which destroy the chance to earn a decent living. It exists because poor people don’t have access to land to grow viable crops or keep livestock, or to steady work that would give them an income to buy food. It exists because people sometimes use natural resources in ways that are not sustainable. It exists because there is not enough investment in the rural sector in many countries to support agricultural development. Hunger exists because financial and economic crises affect the poor most of all by reducing or eliminating the sources of income they depend on to survive.

Food waste, in particular, has emerged as a serious global problem. Nearly a third of food produced around the world is wasted today, according to the UN. And the problem is often most severe in developed countries, where the fact that hunger is so prevalent in certain parts of the world is more likely to be taken for granted. Look no further than the United States, where some 40 percent of food still goes uneaten.