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A Portrait of Hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa

A Portrait of Hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As African Union representatives meet this week to discuss the growing threat of hunger and malnutrition in Africa, Gallup Polls in 29 sub-Saharan African countries provide a measure of how often residents went without enough to eat before the recent food price surges.

Across the 29 sub-Saharan African countries Gallup surveyed between 2006 and early 2008, a median of one in three residents (33%) said they or their families had gone without enough to eat several times or more in the past year, and a median of 26% said this had happened just once or twice in that period. A median of 37% said they had never gone without enough to eat.

The AU and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) are developing strategies with leaders from 16 African countries that were chosen because their countries met several criteria, including "country has chronic malnourishment/malnutrition and is food insecure and is experiencing a worsening situation because of rising food prices." Plans for concrete, short- and medium-term measures to improve food security in these countries are expected to emerge from this conference.

Gallup surveyed citizens in 14 of the 16 (Gallup did not survey Lesotho and Swaziland) countries in attendance at the AU-NEPAD conference in 2006 and 2007 and found a median percentage of 28% saying they'd gone without enough to eat several times or more over the past year. However, percentages were significantly higher than the median in Rwanda (48%), Zambia (44%), Cameroon (39%), Sierra Leone (38%), and Kenya (36%).

Gallup data underscore that affording food was difficult for people in many of these countries even before the latest surge in food prices. More than 6 in 10 Zambians (65%), Sierra Leoneans (63%), and Rwandans (61%) said they were unable to buy food for their families at times in the past year. These citizens were also among the most likely to say they went without enough to eat several times or more in the past year. In many cases, people who said they went without enough food tended to be more likely to say they were unable to buy food at times.

A Broad Crisis

Although the AU-NEPAD conference will focus primarily on 16 countries, Gallup data from 29 sub-Saharan African countries paints a portrait of hunger on a broader canvas.

In the Central African Republic, where the World Food Program says sociopolitical disturbances have contributed to widespread poverty and malnutrition, people were the most likely of any of the 29 countries surveyed to say they or their families had gone without enough to eat several times or more in the past year (58% said this had happened to them). Sizable percentages in Liberia (49%), Rwanda (48%), Chad (47%), Benin (45%), and Zambia (44%) said the same. In Liberia and the Central African Republic, three-quarters or more of residents said they had been unable to afford food at times in that same year.

Bottom Line

Taken together, the measures of hunger frequency and inability to afford food suggest many citizens in sub-Saharan African countries are strongly susceptible in the immediate term to further price increases and fluctuations in food availability droughts, floods, poor harvests, and political instability could cause. Further, with sustained high food prices expected over the next several years, the economic and social costs in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to be felt in the longer term as well.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted throughout 2006, 2007, and 2008. Randomly selected sample sizes typically number 1,000 residents, aged 15 and older, in the 29 countries polled. In Angola and Congo (Kinshasa), surveys were conducted in primarily urban areas. Surveys in Chad and Sudan did not include Darfur. In Chad and the Central African Republic, the eastern parts of each country were not surveyed. In Uganda, the northern part of the country was not surveyed. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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