Save the Children found about one-fifth more newborns will face hunger this year compared to 2013 when 14.4 million children were born into the grips of hunger. Using the latest country data on the prevalence of undernourishment from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) and UN estimates on the number of births.
Economic instability, conflicts and repeated climate shocks have contributed to a devastating hunger crisis that is affecting every corner of the world. According to the analysis, Africa and Asia account for 95% of the world’s undernourished births in 2023. The data does not include the impact the escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory is having on hunger or the birth rate in the region.
“More than 17 million newborns will this year enter a world where hunger will eat away at their childhood. That’s 33 children a minute — more than the size of a classroom in Australia. Hunger will destroy their dreams, silence their play, disrupt their education, and threaten their lives,” said Hannah Stephenson, Global Head of Health and Nutrition at Save the Children.
“The future of these children is already compromised before they even take their first breath. We must protect their childhoods and futures before it’s too late.”
In countries where at least 25% of the population is facing chronic hunger, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will have the highest number of babies born undernourished this year. About 1.5 million newborns are projected to be born into the grips of hunger in the DRC - the highest number recorded for the country since FAO records began in 2001.
Projections indicate that in 2023, an estimated 6.6 million children under the age of five will be undernourished in the DRC.
Sifa,* 33, living in a displacement camp in North Kivu, DRC, is struggling to feed her five children, including her youngest born just three months ago. After losing three previous children to malaria, cholera and armed groups, she fears she will lose another, this time to hunger.
“I live in constant fear that I will lose another child. I keep thinking: ‘will I ever see my children grow and will ever have enough food for them?’ I’m scared of waking up every day to find my baby gone,” Sifa said.
“Since giving birth three months ago, I have been struggling to feed my infant. I know I should eat more but what little we have I give to my nine-year-old daughter. She already begs for food every day and sleeps hungry, so I try to give her something. I know it’s dangerous sending her out there, but we have no other option, she needs to eat.”
Afghanistan is bracing for the highest number of children born into hunger in Asia among countries with vast levels of undernutrition.
Marium,* 10 months, is among the roughly 440,000 children estimated to be born into hunger in Afghanistan this year. At six months, Marium started getting diarrhoea and then was later diagnosed with pneumonia due to a weakened immune system. Her mother, Zolaikha,* 23, explained that the family cannot afford nutritious food to help keep her children healthy because of their limited income.
She added: “Since the time we gave her water and homemade food, she started to get diarrhoea. She became severely weak two months ago. She was extremely weak. She was crying all the time and was always in pain or discomfort and had a high fever. I used to cry with her. It was difficult to see my daughter in pain. I hope no one’s child ever gets sick. My other child, Zohra,* was also severely malnourished. She had frequent diarrhoea too and later caught pneumonia as well. It is all because of drinking unsafe water and not having enough nutritious food.”
Huge progress has been made in the past to reduce global hunger. According to the analysis, 21.5 million children were born into hunger in 2001, one-fifth more than in 2023. However, progress started to significantly decline in 2019, largely due economic instability, conflicts, and the worsening climate crisis.
The latest country data on undernourishment was published before the escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory, where 2.3 million people in Gaza have struggled to get enough to eat due to the ongoing bombardment. Using the birthrate in Gaza from the UN, Save the Children found that more than 66,000 babies are expected to be born in Gaza this year, with more than 15,000 born between 7 October and the end of 2023. Without a ceasefire, babies' lives will hang in the balance from the moment they are born.
“Hunger is not a lost cause. We have the power to significantly reduce the number of malnourished children right now, like we have in the past,” Hannah Stephenson continued.
“However, if we do not tackle the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, we will continue to see the reversal of progress made for children. This is a global hunger crisis, and it requires a global solution.”
Save the Children is calling on world leaders meeting at the global food security summit in the UK today to address the root causes of acute food and nutrition insecurity. Only by putting an end to global conflict, by tackling the climate crisis and global inequality, and by building more resilient health, nutrition and social protection systems that are less vulnerable to shocks like COVID-19, conflicts, and the climate crisis, will we be able to ensure the same warnings are not ringing out again in the coming years.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
- For the analysis, Save the Children used data from the UN Population Prospects for 2023 and the latest country data on hunger from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), which is measured by undernourishment. The most recent published FAO country data is up until 2022 - country data up for 2022/2023 has not yet been made publicly available. Data on prevalence of undernourishment is only available for the total population. In this analysis we estimate that the share of children affected by hunger is equivalent to the average of the total population, applying undernourishment rates to the number of births in each country. This likely underestimates the true effect as we would expect that poorer communities – in most countries home to proportionally more children – are more likely to be affected by hunger. This analysis uses country-specific estimates of hunger to reflect more accurately the share of children in the total population.
- According to the analysis, more than 21.5 million children were born into hunger in 2001. In 2018, the number dropped to about 14.5 million but then jumped up to 15.3 million in 2019. In 2023, there will be an estimated17.6 million undernourished births, 22% or about one-fifth more than in 2013 when there was 14.4 million.
- Between 1 January and 31 December 2023, there will be 525,600 minutes. 17.6 million divided by 525,600 = 33.48 - suggesting an average of 33 children a minute will be born into hunger in 2023.
- According to the analysis, the top 10 countries with the highest number of children born into hunger in countries where at least 25% of the population is undernourished include: (1) DRC, Uganda, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia, Mozambique, Yemen, Chad, (10) Zambia.
- Of the 10 countries that have at least 25% of their population undernourished, Afghanistan is number four in the world, and number one in Asia.
- According to the analysis, Africa and Asia account for 95% of the world’s undernourished births in 2023, with Africa having more than 9.4 million children born into hunger and Asia with 7.4 million, equalling over 16.8 million total.
- About 1.5 million newborns are estimated to have been born into the grips of hunger in the DRC - the highest number recorded for the country since FAO records began in 2001. Both the birth rate and undernutrition rate in the DRC is up since 2001. According to FAO data, 27.9% of children were undernourished in 2001, which jumped to 35.3% in 2021. 2021 is the latest country data on hunger published from by the FAO.
- Using data from the UNFPA for the birth rate in Gaza and applying the twin rate for oPt, about 183 babies on average will be born every day in 2023, more than 66,000 births for the entire year. There are 86 days between 7 Oct and the end of the year, meaning more than 15,000 children will be born into Gaza during this period. This analysis does not include the recent mortality rate of the current escalation of violence, so the number of births may be slightly lower between 7 Oct and the end of 2023.