85% Of Americans Have No Idea How Many Millions Are Starving Worldwide, New Poll Shows

Published August 4, 2017
Published August 4, 2017

A study from the International Rescue Committee found that very few Americans know about "the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II."


Jean-Marc Giboux/Getty Images

“A single death is a tragedy,” begins a saying often attributed to Joseph Stalin. “A million deaths is a statistic.”

This has probably never been truer than in the age of social media.

Talk to any random person, and it’s likely that they heard about the French model who was killed by an exploding whipped cream can, the baby who died after his parents put him on a gluten-free diet, or the 11-year-old in Florida who was forced to marry her rapist.

What they won’t know is how many people around the world are currently living on the brink of starvation.

According to a recent poll from the International Rescue Committee, an incredible 85 percent of Americans don’t know that 20 million people are starving right now — in just four countries.

The 20 million people in these four countries — Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria — is more than the combined populations of New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, and Philadelphia.

“We have news on 24 hours a day,” Liz Schrayer, the president of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, wrote in TIME. “We live in unprecedented connectivity. And yet we don’t even know that simple fact. That is disturbing.”

There is a bit of hope, here, though. Because it’s not that most Americans simply don’t care — it’s that they don’t know.

The same poll found that once millennials learn about the crisis, they see it as “the defining global issue of their generation.”

Millennials, the country’s largest generation, were the age group found to most believe that the U.S. has a moral obligation to provide international aid. Forty-five percent of them said that America has a moral obligation to help those in need regardless of where they are, 38 percent said America should cut back international aid unless it’s somehow tied to international security concerns, and 18 percent were unsure.

The only issue met with more concern from all respondents (after they had been briefed by pollsters) was the threat of North Korea firing nuclear missiles.

In March, the United Nations Secretary General requested $6.1 billion in famine aid to combat the humanitarian crisis. Thus far, less than half of that has been raised.

Donald Trump promised America would contribute $639 million in food aid to the four countries during July’s G20 summit, despite a previous pledge to make sharp cuts to U.S. humanitarian missions.

“Despite recent news of emergency U.S. humanitarian funding, the IRC has continued concerns over the Trump administration’s proposed FY18 cuts on the foreign aid budget, which would have devastating consequences – including potentially doubling the number of people at risk of starvation,” the IRC said in a statement.

The group encouraged people to stay informed and continue to encourage their representatives to work to end “the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.”

Next, see how Kevin Carter’s iconic photo of African famine in the 1990s changed the world. Then, read about the David Kirby photo that changed the world’s perception of AIDS.