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The amazing decline of global hunger, in one chart

A Balinese festival.
A Balinese festival.
Agung Parameswara/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Scanning the news, it's easy to think the world is falling apart. But, on Monday, we got a major piece of good news: hunger is on a major decline in the world. Since 1990, there's been a sustained and massive collapse in the number of people who have difficulty accessing food.

The data comes from the 2014 Global Hunger Index, a measure of global hunger from the International Food Policy Research Institute. The index tracks "the percentage of the population that is undernourished, the percentage of children younger than five years of age who are underweight, and the percentage of people who die before the age of five." Malnutrition is particularly bad for children, and poor access to food makes kids way more vulnerable to diseases, the leading cause of child death in the developing world.

The Index goes from zero, which indicates a country with no undernutrition, to 100, a country where everyone goes hungry. Here's the overall score for "developing nations" since 1990, which basically means all countries except for industrialized "developed" nations such as the US, the UK, Japan, and the like:

decline of hunger

That's a 39 percent decline over 24 years. That decline in hunger is a massive win for humanity.

Why are things getting better? Credit two things: economic growth and government programs. Global poverty has declined sharply since 1990, especially in India and China, making it easier for people to afford food. Meanwhile, government programs and international aid have made major improvements in getting people access to healthy diets.

Progress on undernutrition hasn't been even. Some countries, like Swaziland and Iraq, have gotten worse over time. But almost all have made huge strides — India, as The Hindu's Rukmini Shrinivasan explains, posted one of the largest absolute declines in hunger in the world. Here's a GIF that shows country-by-country changes in Global Hunger Index for since 1990:

gif food index hunger

(International Food Policy Research Institute)

See how there's less and less red and orange but more and more green? That means food insecurity is declining. Just another reason to believe that, for all our troubles, we're living through the greatest era in human history.

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