Global Food Unaffordability: A Comprehensive Analysis Reveals Stark Disparities

by Ella

Food, often considered the poetry of the palate, the body’s fuel, and a universal language that transcends cultures, is facing a global crisis of unaffordability. Recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, pushing an alarming 122 million more people into food insecurity between 2019 and 2022. Rising food prices compounded by increasing poverty have led to a surge in food unaffordability, particularly in specific regions around the world.

According to Our World in Data, utilizing statistics gathered by the World Bank, a map reveals the share of the population in each country unable to afford a healthy diet. Food insecurity is defined as the lack of regular access to sufficient safe and nutritious food for normal growth, development, and a healthy life.


Mapping Food Unaffordability: A Closer Look

The map vividly illustrates that regions of Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia are colored in red, signifying the majority of the population’s inability to afford a healthy diet. To delve deeper into the issue, countries are ranked based on the percentage of the population unable to afford a healthy diet, with Madagascar topping the list at a staggering 97.8%. The country’s prolonged drought, cyclones, and the aftermath of the Russian invasion have collectively contributed to a nearly 20% spike in food prices over the last three years.


Madagascar’s food insecurity crisis has resulted in a dramatic rise, with approximately one million people experiencing food insecurity annually since 2019, of which 250,000 are now classified under a “famine situation.”


Similar challenges affect the subsequent countries on the list—Burundi, Malawi, Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Liberia—where a convergence of factors, including climate-related issues and geopolitical events, intensify food unaffordability.


Global Disparities: A Regional Breakdown

A regional breakdown exposes significant disparities in food unaffordability. Sub-Saharan Africa faces a staggering 83.5% of its population unable to afford a healthy diet, closely followed by South Asia at 74.2%. In contrast, Europe and Central Asia boast a mere 3.1% and North America only 1.1%.

Geographically, eight out of 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa and seven out of 10 people in South Asia grapple with the inability to afford a healthy diet, underscoring the urgent need for targeted interventions.

Exploring Diet Quality and Affordability

As a countermeasure, reducing the quality of the diet makes food more affordable in certain regions. Indonesia, for instance, reveals that while nearly 71% of the population cannot afford a healthy diet, this percentage drops to 64% for a nutrient-sufficient diet and a mere 3% for a calorie-sufficient diet.

In an international comparison, countries with the least food unaffordability include Cyprus, Finland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, and Switzerland—all from Europe—with 0% of the population unable to afford a healthy diet.

Regional Nuances and Progress Tracking

Beyond the stark statistics, regional nuances shed light on variations in food unaffordability. East Asia & the Pacific, Europe & Central Asia, and North America exhibit lower percentages across healthy, nutrient-sufficient, and calorie-sufficient diets, highlighting progress in food affordability.

However, the gap widens in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, particularly when assessing calorie-sufficient diets. While these regions have comparable shares of the population unable to afford healthy and nutrient-sufficient diets, the disparity increases significantly to nearly 25% versus 2.6% for calorie-sufficient diets.

Addressing the Global Food Crisis

As efforts to address global food unaffordability intensify, understanding regional nuances and acknowledging progress in certain areas becomes imperative. Tracking these trends enables policymakers to tailor interventions effectively, whether through income growth initiatives or supply chain improvements.

While the goal remains to make a healthy diet accessible to every individual, recognizing the incremental improvements in diet affordability worldwide is crucial. For countries in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, a targeted approach could bridge the gap and make strides beyond basic diet necessities.



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