What Causes Hunger?

Andrew Parsons/i-Images for Action Against Hunger, Senegal
Andrew Parsons/i-Images for Action Against Hunger, Senega

The immediate causes of malnutrition in a child rely on underlying factors in her family and community. These, in turn, depend on basic factors at the national level functioning effectively.

Some of the basic causes of hunger are societal, such as:  


When people are in a state of poverty, they lack the resources to cover their basic needs such as food, water, and shelter.


Conflict often uproots people from their homes and land, so food production dwindles or stops completely. Conflict also disrupts economies, so markets become unstable. This leaves people who are already vulnerable more susceptible to malnutrition.

Gender Inequality:

Though women produce the majority of food in developing countries and are typically the primary caregivers for children, gender inequality in societies leads to a higher malnutrition rate among women and girls.

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Other causes of hunger are environmental, such as:

Seasonal Changes:

For people who live in rural areas and rely on farming and livestock for food and income, seasonal changes in climate, along with food prices and availability, affect hunger. This results in annual cycles of hunger, known as the “hunger season,” that are devastating.

Natural Disasters:

Much like conflict, natural disasters can destroy homes, land, jobs, and markets. Until communities can be rebuilt, people affected by natural disasters are at greater risk for malnutrition. Climate change plays a role in increasing natural disasters.

Lack of Access to Safe Water:

Unsafe or scarce water creates and exacerbates malnutrition. Without access to safe water, crops can’t grow properly, and people can’t survive or stay healthy.

If any of these basic or underlying factors are missing or not working properly, it’s more likely to trigger immediate issues that increase the risk of malnutrition.

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Action Against Hunger is leading a global movement to end hunger in our lifetimes. It innovates solutions, advocates for change, and reaches 25 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 50 countries, its 8,300 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. It strives to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.