For a while, we were making headway in eradicating global hunger. Not anymore.
A recent report from the United Nations (UN) has shown that global hunger is on the rise. After years of steady progress, the last 3 years have seen hunger levels rise to a level equivalent to 10 years ago. Now almost 11% of the world’s population are undernourished, estimated at 821 million people. That’s 1 in 9 people.
In investigating the cause for this rise, the report finds climate change playing an increasing role in rising hunger levels.
This is worrying as it throws into doubt our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating world hunger by 2030. It is worrying also because we are seeing the number of climate migrants increasing year-on-year. A growing hunger crisis will see more people forced from their homes in search of food.
The report states that ‘In addition to conflict, climate variability and extremes are among the key drivers behind the recent uptick in global hunger and one of the leading causes of severe food crises’. It goes on emphasise that ‘climate variability and exposure to climate extremes are threatening to erode and reverse gains made in ending hunger and malnutrition’.
It is true that we are seeing our climate become more variable, with extremes in weather becoming more frequent. The rise in sea levels, increases in typhoons and a surge in droughts are testament to this. For most, these events are little more than inconvenient. In the UK, they have almost no direct impact on us. But for countries vulnerable to these changes, the influence of varying weather systems has been dramatic and deadly.
The obvious and well-documented effect of this is the impact on food production. Crops are notoriously sensitive to small changes in temperature and precipitation, and variations can result in significant changes in yield. It was found that droughts caused more than 80% of the total damages and losses in agriculture, with flood storms causing the rest of the destruction. Less publicised are the effects it has on the other areas of food security, from access to utilisation, to stability. For instance, a drought reduces food production. Not only does this reduce the amount of food available, but it forces the farmer to increase their prices, therefore reducing access to the food. A flood on the other hand may reduce food quality through poorer water quality and sanitation, preventing efficient utilisation of the crops.
This brings us onto another negative effect of a changing climate on food; nutrition. The report found the quality of food both produced and consumed was highly susceptible to variations in climate. Nutrient quality and dietary diversity falls in times of struggle with people forced to not only eat fewer meals, but to eat less nutrient dense foods. Dietary changes like this pose health risks and increase susceptibility to disease and illness, which is magnified by poor water quality and sanitation.
In 2015, 80 million people faced ‘crisis’ levels of acute food insecurity or worse. In 2017, this amount reached 124 million people in over 50 countries and territories. Out of this total, 95 million also faced climate shocks and extremes. The impact that climate change is having on the world is proven. It is far reaching, forcing sea levels to raise, forests to recede, and animals to become extinct.
Safeguarding food security from climate extremes requires a focus on resilience. Approaches focusing on anticipating, limiting and adapting to climate variations are needed alongside improving the resilience of food systems in vulnerable areas. The backwards trend we have taken in the last 3 years must be reversed in order to subdue the rise of global hunger.
About the author
Alex Baker is a researcher at WMC covering areas relating to climate change and economic development. He is an Economics Graduate currently working and travelling throughout Europe and Asia.
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