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Where is starvation the worst?

Starvation remains a major global issue in the 21st century, with hundreds of millions of people suffering from chronic undernourishment around the world. However, the prevalence and severity of starvation varies greatly between different regions and countries. In examining where starvation is most severe globally, some key trends and statistics emerge.

What is starvation?

Starvation refers to severe malnutrition that results from a sustained lack of caloric intake needed for basic metabolism and to maintain body weight. When the body does not get enough calories from food, it starts breaking down its own tissues for energy, leading to dangerous weight loss and ultimately death if not corrected. Starvation can be caused by things like famine, drought, war, and extreme poverty that prevent people from growing or purchasing enough food.

Prolonged starvation has devastating effects on the body and mind, including:

  • Extreme weight loss and muscle wasting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Greater susceptibility to disease due to weakened immune system
  • Anemia and other nutritional deficiencies
  • Irreversible organ damage
  • Mental health impacts like depression and anxiety

Starvation is considered one of the most severe forms of malnutrition. Hunger and undernourishment are also major global issues, though the effects may not be as rapid or severe as with outright starvation.

What are common causes of starvation?

There are a number of potential drivers of starvation globally, with poverty, conflict, and food insecurity being among the most significant:

  • Extreme poverty – Those living in extreme poverty cannot afford to grow or purchase sufficient food, making starvation more likely during hard times.
  • Food insecurity – Periodic food shortages and lack of resilience after crop failures or supply chain disruptions can lead to starvation.
  • War and conflict – Conflict disrupts agriculture and supply chains, causing shortages. Food can also be withheld as an intentional war tactic.
  • Natural disasters – Droughts, floods, locusts, and extreme weather events can quickly lead to widespread crop loss and starvation.
  • Disease outbreaks – Diseases that affect livestock or crops can limit food availability. Diseases can also limit people’s ability to grow and purchase food if they are debilitating.
  • Lack of infrastructure/technology – Insufficient roads, irrigation, and availability of modern farming technology can exacerbate food shortages in some regions.

These causes often compound one another. For example, conflict can exacerbate poverty, making starvation more likely when a natural disaster occurs. Political instability can also drive starvation in many cases.

Where is child malnutrition and starvation most severe?

Child malnutrition and starvation is an important subset to examine, as children are among the most vulnerable to food shortages. They have higher caloric needs relative to their body size and less ability to fend for themselves.

According to UNICEF, the following regions have the highest rates of child malnutrition:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa – Over 1 in 4 children malnourished (58.7 million children)
  • South Asia – Over 1 in 5 children malnourished (46.7 million children)
  • Eastern Asia & Pacific – Over 1 in 10 children malnourished (9.4 million children)

Within sub-Saharan Africa, UNICEF highlights Chad, Yemen, and South Sudan as experiencing particularly dire child malnutrition crises in recent years.

Which countries have the highest starvation death rates?

Looking at starvation death rates directly, the following countries face the worst starvation according to recent population surveys and estimates:

Country Starvation deaths per 100,000 population
Central African Republic 113
Chad 72
Madagascar 54
Zambia 47
Namibia 42

As shown, many sub-Saharan African countries have the highest starvation death rates globally. Chad and the Central African Republic are currently experiencing the worst starvation crises in terms of mortality. For context, the global average starvation death rate is 9 per 100,000 people.

Which regions have the highest prevalence of undernourishment?

Looking beyond just starvation, undernourishment more broadly also varies greatly by region:

Region Prevalence of undernourishment
Sub-Saharan Africa 21.9%
Southern Asia 14.7%
Western Asia 12.5%
Middle Africa 27.8%
Eastern Asia 8.3%

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), sub-Saharan Africa suffers from the highest rates of undernourishment, with over 1 in 5 people lacking proper access to food. Southern Asia, Western Asia, and the Middle East also have relatively high rates of undernourishment.

Which countries are most food deprived?

The Global Food Security Index created by the Economist Intelligence Unit ranks countries based on affordability, availability, and quality of food. According to the index, the following countries faced the most food deprivation in 2022:

Country Global Food Security Index Score (0-100)
Yemen 24.6
Venezuela 27.8
Burundi 28.9
Haiti 29.5
Madagascar 29.8

Yemen, Venezuela, Burundi, Haiti, and Madagascar received the lowest food security scores, indicating they face the worst food deprivation and highest risk of starvation globally.

Key takeaways on where starvation is most severe

In summary, some key points on the global starvation landscape include:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa experiences the highest levels of child malnutrition and has 5 of the 10 countries with the worst food deprivation.
  • Conflict-torn countries like Yemen and the Central African Republic have some of the highest starvation death rates.
  • Asia has very high populations of undernourished people in India and other countries, though malnutrition rates are lower than Africa.
  • Madagascar and Haiti stand out for high starvation risk relative to their regions.
  • Poverty, conflict, and food insecurity are major drivers that perpetuate starvation crises.

Targeted aid and policy efforts that build food security and deliver nutrition in struggling regions could significantly reduce starvation rates globally. However, for many nations, starvation continues to be a persistent public health challenge.


Starvation remains an ongoing threat for vulnerable populations worldwide. Its effects are most pronounced in parts of Africa, especially among children. Countries like Chad, Yemen, and Haiti highlight how poverty, conflict, and disasters can create severe starvation crises. While progress has been made in reducing hunger since 2000, current world events and inequality threaten that momentum. Understanding where starvation is concentrated can help inform humanitarian aid and development policies aimed at building food security and resilience among those most in need.