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The 3 billion people who cannot afford a healthy diet

Although not often the focus of news media, hunger and malnutrition are problems that plague millions of people every day.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), more than 3 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, a further 112 million more than in 2019. The increase was partly due to rising food prices, with the average cost increasing by one healthy eating increased by 3.3% compared to 2019.

As of August 2022, the FAO’s food price index had risen 40.6% from average 2020 levels. Unless income levels have risen by a similar magnitude, the healthy eating crisis has likely deepened, particularly in low-income countries hit by rampant food inflation.

Using data from the FAO, the above infographic depicts the proportion of people who cannot afford a healthy diet in 138 different countries (as of 2020) (latest available data).

The cost and affordability of a healthy diet

According to the FAO, a healthy diet is one that meets daily energy needs as well as the requirements of food and nutrition guidelines created by the country.

(In)affordability is measured by comparing the cost of healthy eating to income levels in the country. When costs exceed 52% of an average household income, nutrition is considered unaffordable.

Here’s a look at the proportion of populations that cannot afford a healthy diet and the cost of such a diet around the world:

country Percent of the population who cannot afford a healthy diet Healthy Diet Cost (USD per person per day)
Burundi 🇧🇮 97.2% $2.9
Madagascar 🇲🇬 97.0% $3.2
Liberia 🇱🇷 96.8% $3.9
Malawi 🇲🇼 96.6% $3.1
Nigeria 🇳🇬 95.9% $4.1
Central African Republic 🇨🇫 95.1% $3.6
Guinea 🇬🇳 94.9% $4.1
Angola 🇦🇴 94.3% $4.5
Congo 🇨🇬 92.4% $3.4
Sudan 🇸🇩 91.8% $4.3
Mozambique 🇲🇿 91.5% $3.2
Democratic Republic of Congo 🇨🇩 90.0% $2.1
Sierra Leone 🇸🇱 89.2% $2.9
Nigeria 🇳🇪 88.8% $2.9
Zambia 🇿🇲 88.0% $3.3
Tanzania 🇹🇿 87.6% $2.7
Guinea Bissau 🇬🇼 87.2% $3.5
Ethiopia 🇪🇹 86.8% $3.4
Rwanda 🇷🇼 86.3% $2.7
Haiti 🇭🇹 85.9% $4.5
Sao Tome and Principe 🇸🇹 84.7% $3.6
Nepal 🇳🇵 84.0% $4.4
Lesotho 🇱🇸 83.5% $4.3
Pakistan 🇵🇰 83.5% $3.7
Chad 🇹🇩 83.4% $2.8
Benin 🇧🇯 82.9% $3.7
Uganda 🇺🇬 82.2% $2.7
Kenya 🇰🇪 81.1% $3.0
Burkina Faso 🇧🇫 80.1% $3.3
Laos 🇱🇦 79.8% $4.1
Mali 🇲🇱 74.3% $3.1
Bangladesh 🇧🇩 73.5% $3.1
Egypt 🇪🇬 72.9% $3.4
Eswatini 🇸🇿 71.8% $3.4
India 🇮🇳 70.5% $3.0
Indonesia 🇮🇩 69.1% $4.5
Philippines 🇵🇭 68.6% $4.1
Jamaica 🇯🇲 66.2% $6.7
South Africa 🇿🇦 65.2% $4.3
Burma 🇲🇲 65.1% $4.2
Gambia 🇬🇲 64.0% $3.1
Djibouti 🇩🇯 63.9% $3.1
Botswana 🇧🇼 61.4% $3.7
Ghana 🇬🇭 61.2% $4.0
Cameroon 🇨🇲 60.7% $2.8
Mauritania 🇲🇷 60.7% $3.7
Fiji 🇫🇯 60.4% $3.9
Suriname 🇸🇷 58.8% $5.7
Namibia 🇳🇦 56.8% $3.5
Bhutan 🇧🇹 53.0% $5.0
Mongolia 🇲🇳 51.4% $5.1
Honduras 🇭🇳 51.3% $3.5
Iraq 🇮🇶 49.6% $3.5
Kyrgyzstan 🇰🇬 49.6% $3.2
Sri Lanka 🇱🇰 49.0% $3.9
Senegal 🇸🇳 46.0% $2.3
Guyana 🇬🇾 43.0% $4.9
Armenia 🇦🇲 42.9% $3.2
Tajikistan 🇹🇯 42.1% $3.5
Cape Verde 🇨🇻 38.1% $3.6
Belize 🇧🇿 36.4% $2.1
Gabon 🇬🇦 36.3% $3.6
Nicaragua 🇳🇮 35.7% $3.3
Algeria 🇩🇿 30.2% $3.8
Viet Nam 🇻🇳 30.0% $4.1
Colombia 🇨🇴 26.5% $3.1
Mexico 🇲🇽 26.3% $3.3
Bolivia 🇧🇴 24.7% $3.8
Palestine 🇵🇸 23.1% $3.4
Ecuador 🇪🇨 21.4% $2.9
Saint Lucia 🇱🇨 20.6% $3.6
Peru 🇵🇪 20.5% $3.3
Iran 🇮🇷 20.3% $3.6
Tunisia 🇹🇳 20.3% $3.6
Albania 🇦🇱 20.1% $4.2
Brazil 🇧🇷 19.0% $3.1
Dominican Republic 🇩🇴 18.3% $3.9
Panama 🇵🇦 18.2% $4.5
North Macedonia 🇲🇰 18.0% $3.4
Paraguay 🇵🇾 17.8% $3.5
Montenegro 🇲🇪 17.5% $3.5
Thailand 🇹🇭 17.0% $4.3
Costa Rica 🇨🇷 16.8% $4.1
Morocco 🇲🇦 16.7% $2.8
Serbia 🇷🇸 16.3% $4.2
Jordan 🇯🇴 14.9% $3.6
Mauritius 🇲🇺 13.5% $3.6
China 🇨🇳 12.0% $3.0
Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹 11.6% $4.2
Romania 🇷🇴 8.8% $3.2
Bulgaria 🇧🇬 8.5% $4.1
Seychelles 🇸🇨 6.8% $3.8
Moldova 🇲🇩 6.7% $2.8
Chile 🇨🇱 3.8% $3.4
Croatia 🇭🇷 3.8% $4.3
Bosnia and Herzegovina 🇧🇦 3.7% $4.0
Uruguay 🇺🇾 3.6% $3.4
Russia 🇷🇺 3.5% $3.4
Greece 🇬🇷 3.2% $3.1
Italy 🇮🇹 2.9% $3.1
Japan 🇯🇵 2.5% $5.8
Hungary 🇭🇺 2.0% $3.5
Spain 🇪🇸 2.0% $2.8
Malaysia 🇲🇾 1.9% $3.5
Latvia 🇱🇻 1.8% $3.2
South Korea 🇰🇷 1.7% $5.2
United States 🇺🇸 1.5% $3.4
Maldives 🇲🇻 1.4% $3.9
Estonia 🇪🇪 1.3% $3.3
Kazakhstan 🇰🇿 1.2% $2.7
Lithuania 🇱🇹 1.2% $3.1
Slovakia 🇸🇰 1.2% $3.2
Israel 🇮🇱 1.0% $2.5
Poland 🇵🇱 1.0% $3.2
Austria 🇦🇹 0.8% $3.0
Australia 🇦🇺 0.7% $2.6
Canada 🇨🇦 0.7% $3.0
Malta 🇲🇹 0.7% $3.8
Sweden 🇸🇪 0.6% $3.3
Portugal 🇵🇹 0.5% $2.7
United Kingdom 🇬🇧 0.5% $1.9
Denmark 🇩🇰 0.4% $2.5
Norway 🇳🇴 0.4% $3.5
Cyprus 🇨🇾 0.3% $3.0
Belarus 🇧🇾 0.2% $3.3
Belgium 🇧🇪 0.2% $3.1
Czech Republic 0.2% $3.0
Germany 0.2% $3.0
Netherlands 🇳🇱 0.2% $3.0
Finland 🇫🇮 0.1% $2.7
France 🇫🇷 0.1% $3.2
Ireland 🇮🇪 0.1% $2.2
Luxembourg 🇱🇺 0.1% $2.7
Slovenia 🇸🇮 0.1% $3.1
Azerbaijan 🇦🇿 0.0% $2.5
Iceland 🇮🇸 0.0% $2.4
Switzerland 🇨🇭 0.0% $2.7
United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪 0.0% $3.1
world 🌎 42.0% $3.5

In 52 countries, more than half of the population cannot afford a healthy diet. Most of them are in Africa, the rest in Asia, Oceania and America.

In contrast, in four countries – Azerbaijan, Iceland, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates – everyone can afford to eat healthy. The picture is similar for most European and developed high-income countries, where more than 95% the population can provide a healthy diet.

If you convert the percentages into numbers, Asia has the most people who cannot afford a healthy diet 1.89 billion, of which 973 million people live in India alone. Other 1 billion people live in Africa, around 151 million people in America and Oceania.

While hunger is a problem worldwide, it is particularly acute in African countries, which cover all of the top 20 spots in the table above.

Africa’s deepening food crisis

In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa more than 90% of the population cannot afford a healthy diet.

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable to extreme climate events and the resulting volatility in food prices. Rough one third of the world’s droughts occur in the region, and some sub-Saharan countries are also heavily dependent on food imports.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has exacerbated the crisis, with many African countries importing over 50% of their wheat from the two conflicting countries. Soaring food prices due to this supply chain disruption have resulted in double-digit food inflation in many African countries, meaning more people are likely unable to afford a healthy diet.

The Horn of Africa region at the eastern tip of Africa is particularly in turmoil. All countries in the region depend on wheat from Russia and Ukraine, with Eritrea (100%) and Somalia (>90%) topping the table of import dependency. In addition, the region is facing its worst drought in 40 years, alongside ongoing political conflicts. As a result, 22 million people are at risk of starvation.

population growth and food insecurity

In November 2022, the world population is expected to exceed 8 billion people and many of the fastest growing countries are also affected by food insecurity.

The world population is expected to increase by 35% by 2050 and crop production will need to double to meet the growing demand for food. Since agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, this increase in crop production must also be environmentally sustainable.

As the impacts of climate change intensify and food demand increases, reducing food waste, building climate-resilient agricultural infrastructure, and improving agricultural productivity will play key roles in sustainably reducing food insecurity.

World at 8 billion report

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