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Conflict-driven hunger threatens global goal of Zero Hunger – new report

Press release14 October 2021
Cover image from the 2021 Global Hunger Index. Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP/Muhammed Said
Inhabitants of Idib, Syria, with pide, a traditional round and flat bread, during the holy month of Ramadan, which is the cover image for the 2021 Global Hunger Index. Photo: Anadolu Agency via AFP/Muhammed Said

Progress towards reaching the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030 is showing signs of stagnating or even being reversed, with conflict-driven hunger leaving millions of people hungry, according to the 2021 Global Hunger Index (GHI), published today.

The world as a whole – and 47 countries in particular – will fail to achieve a low level of hunger by 2030, according to projections in the report, produced by Concern Worldwide and German humanitarian organisation Welthungerhilfe.

The report, which uses data from 135 countries, found that more than half the people facing undernourishment in 2020 lived in countries impacted by conflict, violence or fragility.

“A toxic cocktail of climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and increasingly severe and protracted violent conflicts is threatening to wipe out any progress made against hunger in recent years,” Concern Chief Executive Dominic MacSorley said.

Conflict is driving hunger

“Violent conflict is now the primary cause of hunger, and it is worsening food security and malnutrition around the world at a ferocious rate this year,” he said. “The GHI report shows that conflict is a major driver of hunger in eight of the 10 countries with hunger levels that are classified as ‘alarming’ or ‘extremely alarming’. Unless we address conflict, we will not achieve Zero Hunger.”

The GHI country index scores are produced using a three-step process which draws on statistics for undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality to calculate a score on a 100-point scale (see Note to the Editor). Each of the four component indicators are aggregated to produce scores on a 100 point GHI Severity Scale, where 0 represents no hunger and 100 is the worst. Scores are ranked from ‘low’ to ‘extremely alarming’.

Although GHI scores show that global hunger has been declining since 2000, progress is slowing. Between 2006 and 2012, the GHI score for the world fell 4.7 points to 20.4, but it has reduced by just 2.5 points since 2012.

“After decades of decline, the global prevalence of undernourishment – one of the four indicators used to calculate GHI scores – is increasing. This shift may be a harbinger of reversals in other measures of hunger,” the report notes.

‘Extremely alarming’ hunger

Africa South of the Sahara and South Asia are the regions with the highest hunger levels, with GHI scores of 27.1 and 26.1, respectively. These hunger levels are categorised as ‘serious’.

Somalia is the only country found to suffer from an ‘extremely alarming’ level of hunger in this year’s report. Five countries have levels of hunger that are ‘alarming’ — Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, and Yemen.

A further 31 countries have ‘serious’ levels of hunger.

The report found that hunger has increased in 10 countries with ‘moderate’, ‘serious’, or ‘alarming’ hunger levels since 2012, the latest historical reference year in this year’s report. These are: Central African Republic, Ecuador, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malaysia, Oman, Republic of Congo, South Africa, Venezuela, and Yemen.

The GHI also highlights the success of countries that have reduced hunger substantially over recent years and decades. Fourteen countries have seen a 25 percent reduction or more between their 2012 and 2021 GHI scores. For example, Bangladesh has experienced an impressive decline in GHI scores since 2012, dropping from 28.6 points, considered ‘serious’, to 19.1 points, considered ‘moderate’.

“Without resolving food insecurity, it will be difficult to build sustainable peace, and without peace the likelihood of ending global hunger is minimal.”

Caroline Delago and Dan Smith, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Global security has deteriorated significantly since 2010. Last year, worldwide, there were 56 armed conflicts involving states, either in conflict with other states or with armed non-state actors; There were 72 violent conflicts in which states were not involved (non-state); and a further 41 in which the state or an armed group was the only actor and its opponents were unarmed. All three forms of conflict have risen significantly in the past decade, according to the report.

But the GHI notes that it is possible to break the destructive linkages between conflict and hunger and to begin building resilience, even in situations of conflict and extreme vulnerability. In their essay, which is part of the report, Caroline Delago and Dan Smith from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute say their research demonstrates that progress is possible even in the most unfavourable circumstances.

“Without resolving food insecurity, it will be difficult to build sustainable peace, and without peace the likelihood of ending global hunger is minimal,” they write.

The authors note that, especially when working together, actors such as community groups, national, and international non-governmental organisations, United Nations agencies, and states can create conditions for food security and sustainable peace. “Even small-scale interventions can go a long way toward reducing vulnerability and strengthening local pockets of peace,” they say.


The report’s recommendations are:

  • International law must be strengthened and accountability ensured for rights violations, including of the right to food in conflict settings, such as through the use of starvation as a weapon of war;
  • Governments must actively follow up on the UN Food Systems Summit by addressing the structural challenges embedded in our food systems—including inequities and threats to social cohesion, health, environment, and climate;
  • All actors must work to enhance the resilience of food systems to simultaneously address the impacts of conflict and climate change and to ensure food and nutrition security;
  • All actors must base actions on a thorough understanding of the context, and strengthen inclusive, locally led initiatives;
  • To effectively work across the humanitarian-development-peace-building nexus, all actors’ roles must be clearly defined and sufficiently supported.

To read more about the 2021 Global Hunger Index report and to access a copy click here

For media queries or interviews contact Eamon Timmins, Media Relations Manager, Concern Worldwide at or 087 9880524.

Note to the editor

The GHI is a tool for comprehensively measuring and tracking hunger at global, regional, and national levels over recent years and decades.

GHI index scores for countries are produced using a three-step process which draws on statistics for the following four factors to calculate a score on a 100-point scale:

  • Undernourishment -- the share of the population that is undernourished, reflecting insufficient caloric intake;
  • Child wasting -- the share of children under the age of five who are wasted (low weight-for-height), reflecting acute undernutrition;
  • Child stunting -- the share of children under the age of five who are stunted (low height-for-age), reflecting chronic undernutrition;
  • Child mortality -- the mortality rate of children under the age of five.

In 2021, data was assessed for the 135 countries that met the criteria for inclusion in the GHI, and GHI scores were calculated for 116 of those countries based on data from 2016 to 2020.

The data used to calculate GHI scores comes from published UN sources (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation), the World Bank, and Demographic and Health Surveys.

The GHI categorises and ranks countries on a 100-point scale: values of less than 10.0 reflect low hunger; values from 10.0 to 19.9 reflect moderate hunger; values from 20.0 to 34.9 indicate serious hunger; values from 35.0 to 49.9 are alarming; and values of 50.0 or more are extremely alarming.



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