Food security under the global standard: the 10 most malnourished countries

Oluwatosin Jegede

In our globalized world, the harsh reality of malnutrition is a pressing concern. With rising populations and limited resources, numerous countries find food security elusive. This results in malnourished countries and chronic hunger, with children often being the most affected, as nutrition becomes a daily struggle rather than a given right.

Considering that manual agricultural labor, common in these countries requires significant energy intake, and children need high nutrition levels for growth, the gravity of the problem becomes clearer. In this context, malnutrition is not only about hunger but also about health, immunity, and survival. Here, we focus on the most malnourished countries worldwide.

10. Guatemala (2,244 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

In Guatemala, the food availability per person is 2,244 calories daily, a figure significantly below the global standard. This alarming statistic can be attributed to many factors, such as frequent floods and droughts, soil erosion from deforestation and poor farming practices, and deficient agricultural management policies.

The country faces a severe malnutrition crisis, with 49.8% of children under five years undernourished. The indigenous women and children residing in the country’s ‘dry corridor’ region are the worst hit, making it one of the most malnourished countries in the world today.

9. Sierra Leone (2,162 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

Despite its abundant natural resources, Sierra Leone finds itself battling hunger and malnutrition due to the aftermath of a devastating decade-long civil war. The nation’s food availability per person daily is approximately 2,162 calories, placing it 84th among 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index.

Sierra Leone has a chronically undernourished population, affecting about 40% of children. The most heartbreaking statistic is that one in four children in Sierra Leone do not survive to see their fifth birthday. Around a quarter of the rural population also grapples with borderline or insufficient food consumption.

8. Tanzania (2,137 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

With a food availability of just 2,137 calories per person per day, Tanzania faces significant nutrition-related challenges. The malnutrition crisis is such that about 42% of children under five have stunted growth. There are certain areas, such as Zanzibar, where an estimated 12% of children are malnourished.

Another concern is the deficiency of vital nutrients like iron and Vitamin A among a third of Tanzania’s children aged between six and 59 months. Also, over 18 million Tanzanians consume a diet deficient in iodine. Severe malnutrition is common among adolescent girls and young women in the country.

7. Madagascar (2,117 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

The island nation of Madagascar battles an alarming level of food insecurity, with an average food availability of only 2,117 calories per person per day. About a quarter of Madagascar’s population lives in regions frequently hit by natural disasters like floods, droughts, and cyclones.

These factors, deforestation, and poor land management practices, contribute to widespread food insecurity. Approximately 35.8% of the rural population suffers from food insecurity, and nearly 2 million children are stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

6. Mozambique (2,112 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

Mozambique sees an average food availability of just 2,112 calories per person daily. A staggering 40% of Mozambique’s population is undernourished, and life expectancy is 48 years. Food insecurity affects about 64% of the population, exacerbated by high HIV/AIDS prevalence.

Frequent natural disasters like cyclones, droughts, floods, crop diseases, high poverty levels, and a lack of modern farming practices and financial support result in low agricultural yields.

5. Ethiopia (2,097 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

With its food availability at only 2,097 calories per person per day, Ethiopia grapples with severe food insecurity due to recurring droughts, soil erosion, insufficient infrastructure, and inefficient farming practices. As per a 2013 World Food Program report, undernutrition accounts for 28% of all child mortality cases in the country.

Alarmingly, about 81% of child malnutrition cases remain untreated, and 2 out of 5 children are stunted. The economic repercussions are significant, with stunting reducing Ethiopia’s adult workforce by 8% and approximately 16.5% of the nation’s GDP being spent on addressing malnutrition.

4. Kenya (2,092 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

Kenya faces severe food insecurity, with more than 1 million Kenyans affected and average food availability of only 2,092 calories per person daily. Recent statistics indicate that over 239,446 children suffer moderate acute malnutrition, while 2,600 children suffer severe acute malnutrition.

Factors such as internal conflicts, population displacement due to the El Niño weather phenomenon, infectious disease outbreaks, refugee crises, and high HIV/AIDS rates render Kenya’s population highly vulnerable to food crises and undernourishment.

3. Chad (2,074 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

Chad, a country in Western Africa, experiences severe food scarcity, exacerbated by a lack of healthcare facilities, safe drinking water, and frequent droughts. Approximately 790,000 people require emergency food assistance, and Chad has the region’s highest malnutrition rate.

According to a survey by SMART, child malnutrition rates in 2014 ranged from 6.8% to 13.3%. Chad’s food availability sits alarmingly low at just 2,074 calories per person per day.

2. DR Congo (2,056 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) is a nation in turmoil, where more than 70% of the population lives in poverty due to rebel activities, armed conflicts, widespread corruption, and population displacement.

Despite abundant resources and arable land, a substantial portion of the populace is in the throes of a severe food crisis. In over half of DR Congo’s territories, the acute malnutrition rate exceeds 10%. The chronic malnutrition rate among children aged 6-59 months is a staggering 43.4%, classified as ‘critical’ by WHO standards. The country’s food availability is a mere 2,056 calories per person per day.

1. Haiti (1,976 Calories/Per Person/Per Day)

Haiti holds the grim title of the country with the worst food problem globally, with statistics painting a harrowing picture of a widespread food crisis. About two-thirds of Haitians subsist on $2 or less per day. Despite agriculture being a significant sector of the country’s economy, Haiti imports 80% of its staple food, rice, due to poor local yields.

Haiti’s agriculture is primarily rain-dependent, with only 10% of agricultural lands irrigated. A third of children in Haiti are stunted, and 100,000 children suffer from acute malnutrition.

A call to action: addressing the crisis in the world’s most malnourished countries

The stark reality of undernourishment across the globe necessitates urgent attention and action. The causes are diverse, encompassing natural calamities, political unrest, poor infrastructure, and ineffective farming methods. The most malnourished countries require unique, sustainable solutions to meet their challenges, improving food availability and ending malnutrition.

Our actions as informed global citizens, whether raising awareness, backing aid organizations, or advocating policy changes, can help curb this worldwide crisis. Together, we can work towards a future where food scarcity is no longer a grim reality but a distant memory.

Read also: ‘Zero Harvest’ and desertification: the impacts on food, emissions and water

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