Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

Hunger is “the want or scarcity of food” and affects approximately one in seven people worldwide. Over a billion people are undernourished around the world, with more people dying from hunger and malnutrition than from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. Hunger is not caused simply by lack of food. Poverty, failing infrastructures, inefficient and shortsighted agricultural practices and policies, deficient education, authoritarianism, severe weather, war—all intertwine to deny adequate food production and supply. Although world food production is increasing—especially in developing nations—hunger and malnutrition persist. The global food system tends to treat food as a commodity, not as a basic need to which every person has a fundamental right. (World Hunger 2009; World Food Programme 2009; NY Times 2009, Global Issues 2008; CNN 2008)

 5 — Average number of seconds that pass between each hunger-related death of a child—meaning that approximately 17,000 children die from hunger each day worldwide (CNN 2009)

 7 — Number of countries within which live 65 percent of the world’s 832 million “chronically hungry people”: India, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2008)

20 — Percentage increase in the number of children likely to be malnourished by 2050 as a result of climate change—from a projected 113 million to 138 million children, requiring 7 billion dollars in aid for farmers to adapt to new, more hostile climates (UN Standing Committee on Nutrition 2010; IFPRI 2009)

 28 — Percent of the world’s food and other resources consumed by the U.S. annually even though the U.S. population constitutes but 5 percent of the world’s people and leaves 40–50 percent of all food ready for harvest in the U.S. uneaten—a pattern of disproportionate consumption and waste that has lead to pandemic obesity in the United States and left millions starving or malnourished worldwide (Global Issues 2005, 2008; Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2010)

 63 — Number of countries on track to reduce the rate of underweight children by half between 1990 and 2015, just 55.5 percent of the 117 nations that dedicated themselves to achieving this goal within these dates (BBC World 2009)

 90 — Percent of the developing world’s children, mostly in Africa and Asia, whose growth is stunted by malnutrition, a condition that causes irreversible cognitive and physical developmental problems, poor health, and a lifetime of underachievement—and thus also a loss of societal potential that produces a crippling 2–3 percent drop in the GDP of local economies which, in turn, perpetuates poverty and hunger (UNICEF 2009, Bread for the World 2010)

 239 — Number of U.S. counties where at least 25 percent of the population relies on food stamps for nourishment, 750 counties where the Federal assistance program feeds one in three blacks, and 800 counties where it feeds one in three children (i.e., one in eight Americans and one in four children overall); and still, despite these numbers, only two-thirds of eligible citizens actually receive food stamps because many are unaware that they qualify or because of social stigmas associating food stamps with laziness (NY Times 2009)

 2,720 — Number of kilocalories currently produced per person worldwide each day, significantly more than the 2,100 kilocalories needed by the average person from a balanced protein diet daily (World Hunger 2010; World Food Programme 2009)

 350,000 — Women who die annually from hemorrhaging during childbirth due to a lack of iron in their diet—50 percent of women in developing countries being iron deficient (World Food Programme 2010)

 408,000 — Senior citizens living alone in the United States in 2008 who relied largely on non-governmental food pantries for their nutrition (up 81 percent from 2006), a happenstance assistance which, however irregular, is nonetheless critical for those living on fixed incomes and struggling to keep up with rising food prices (Huffington Post 2009)

49 million — Americans living in households lacking consistent access to adequate nutrition in 2008—an increase of 13 million people from the previous year, attributable to the national rise in unemployment from 4.9 to 7.2 percent (NY Times 2009)

1 billion — Number of dollars pledged by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) for agricultural development in underdeveloped countries belonging to both organizations—a pledge that recognizes the need for sustained investment in agriculture internationally, especially for “smallholder” farmers who are key to food security (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2009)

96 billion — Number of pounds of food literally thrown away in the United States each year, raising serious moral and legal questions about the equitable distribution of food nationally and worldwide (Hands for Hunger 2010)


*Copyright © 2010 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Andrew Boulton, Matthew Hulstein, Laura Lunn, and Jennifer Wideman, students at the UI College of Law. For further information on human rights generally, please visit the UICHR web site.