Climate Change and Food Insecurity

A farmer hit by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique watering her field. FAO supported farmers in the cyclone-ravaged areas with seeds and tools.

A farmer hit by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique watering her field. FAO supported farmers in the cyclone-ravaged areas with seeds and tools.

The impacts of climate change will be highest in places that are least able to adapt. The developing world is especially vulnerable to global warming and extreme weather events due to high poverty rates, poor governance, high natural disaster frequency and widespread use of rain-fed agriculture. Climate change stresses subsistence farming which is widely used to sustain poor populations and commercial agriculture. 98% of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is rain-fed, as rainfall patterns change some countries will receive significantly less rainfall and droughts will become more prevalent, farmers will be forced to adapt and invest in irrigation (IPCC AR5 2014). However, irrigation is expensive and most subsistence farmers cannot afford to irrigate their crops. Henceforth, climate change is projected to cause a decline in crop yield and reduce the quality of staple crops, meanwhile the population is projected to grow. Population growth combined with limited food supply are a major concern. As a result of resource stress, a significant portion of the population will be undernourished. In the developing world where poverty levels are extremely high many populations are already food insecure. According to OXFAM international, 60 million people are currently facing a food crisis (2019). Most people in the developed world are oblivious of the hunger problem and continue to waste several pounds of food daily. Too little food in the global south and excessive food in the global north, this is our sad reality.

From 2015 to 2016 southern Africa experienced a climate change induced El Niño event which revealed first-hand how climate change affects the most vulnerable. In 2016 African countries suffered large scale losses of livestock and nutritional food due to droughts. Droughts further limit access to clean drinking water and people’s ability to cook their food in a hygienic way (Bread for the World 2017). When people are unable to prepare food in a hygienic way there are health implications such as increased diarrhoea and cholera cases. In one of my prior blogs I detailed my experience living through one of the largest cholera outbreaks in Zambia. One could argue that the water shortage prior to the outbreak was due to climate change. Countries most vulnerable to drought include Chad, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen (Scientific American). Food security, nutrition and health are threatened by climate induced weather changes. In Ethiopia, there is currently a food crisis, 9.7 million people are in need of emergency food aid (OXFAM 2019). Where will the aid come from? Under the African Union a cooperative and supportive relationship is encouraged among member states. However, most of Africa is negatively impacted by climate change and unable to provide sufficient support to a distressed Ethiopia. Hence people in affected areas are forced to reduce the amount and variety of consumed food which increases malnutrition cases.

Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate change has intensified the threat of diarrhoea and malnutrition which are recorded as the leading causes of death among children in the developing world. Projections show that more children will be stunted in their early childhood as a result of malnutrition currently 243,000 children may be acutely malnourished, and one in four children are stunted (USAID). Malnutrition has lifelong effects and hinders childhood development. Despite playing no part in climate change, children experience the most suffering. The following video shows how malnutrition is affecting children in Mali and how it is a challenge to get necessary treatment. Children in war torn areas are especially vulnerable, the image below shows a young boy from Yemen who suffers from acute malnutrition. It saddens me to think that if no action is taken there will be more children in critical condition as well as an increase in child mortality.

Women are also a vulnerable group, in rural community’s they are responsible for childcare, subsistence farming, water collection and cooking all of which are very sensitive to climate change.

Climate change affects the prices and distribution of food. El Niño events destroy harvests which makes food more expensive. Food prices especially in sub-Saharan Africa have drastically increased over the last couple of years. In my hometown Lusaka, Zambia we bought bread for about twenty-five cents, now bread costs more than one dollar. My family is lower-middle class, the price changes in food forced us to make dietary changes, for poor communities, price changes combined with limited options are extremely detrimental to health. In Malawi, maize prices increased by 192 percent as of July and prices are expected to continue climbing. In Zambia, maize prices have also gone up but government subsidies help to keep prices relatively low. Food distribution can also become a problem due to extreme climate events such as floods that block roads used for transportation. Furthermore, as farming, fishing and pastoralism are transformed by climate change, livelihoods will be lost. People will be faced with the decision to either migrate or remain and face hunger, henceforth both a refugee and food crisis will be the direct result of climate change.

There is reason for concern, but actions can be taken to reduce the impact of climate change such as planting drought resistance crops and using irrigation. Other actions help by providing relief to affected people, NGO’s and non-profits have helped affected groups by offering relief in the form of aid. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) is recognized for their outstanding support, the following video shows how UNICEF is making a difference.