Commentary: Climate change, the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine have left hundreds of millions of starving people on the brink

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (project syndicate)— Food prices are rising worldwide. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations food price index– which includes a basket of staples (cereals, meat, dairy, vegetable oils and sugars) – hit an all-time high of 159.7 in March, up from 141.1 in the previous month. While it retreated slightly to 158.5 in April, ongoing developments – not the least of which is Russia’s war in Ukraine – should continue to push prices to new highs, with devastating consequences for the US dollar world hunger.

The COVID-19 Pandemic exposed the fragility and dysfunction of the world’s food systems, with movement restrictions and supply chain disruptions raising prices, damaging rural livelihoods and exacerbating food insecurity, particularly for the poor.

Global food commodity prices are at record highs, even when adjusted for inflation.

market observation

war over climate change

Now the war in Ukraine is exacerbating these challenges because both sides are important exporters of food, fuel and fertilizer.

In addition, climate change poses an even greater threat to global food security. Extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods and prolonged droughts have already triggered shocks to agricultural production and food availability. As temperatures rise, these tremors become more frequent and stronger. If global warming crosses the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (relative to Earth’s pre-industrial temperature), they are likely to become catastrophic.

As the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows, circumventing the threshold requires immediate and drastic measures. But mitigation is only part of the challenge. Protecting vulnerable communities from already gridlocked warming will also require large investments in adaptation.

Even in the most optimistic mitigation scenario, global warming is expected to reach the 1.5°C threshold in a decade before declining. The consequences are shifts in climate zones, rising sea levels and disturbances in the water cycle, which increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

Vicious circle of poverty, conflicts, migration

Aside from increasing economic and health risks, the resulting disruptions to food and water supplies are likely to have other consequences Social and political unrest fueling a vicious cycle of poverty, hunger, instability and even conflict, accompanied by a surge in migration.

A more resilient, sustainable and equitable food system must be a pillar of any mitigation or adaptation agenda. But the obstacles to building such a system should not be underestimated, especially for countries and regions where soils are poor, land has low agricultural value, other natural resources such as water are limited or degraded, and socio-economic conditions are difficult.

Given the low productivity of their agricultural land, such marginal environments are unable to support the sustainable production of enough food to meet the nutritional needs of local populations. In fact, while marginal environments are hometown less than 25% of the world’s population – an estimated 1.7 billion people – they make up 70% of the world’s poor and most malnourished.

Poverty and hunger can cause farmers to overexploit sensitive environmental resources to ensure their short-term survival, even at the cost of long-term depletion of their land and impoverishment of their households and communities. Such decisions are particularly relevant to those living in remote areas with minimal infrastructure, few alternative economic opportunities, and limited market access.

Millions on the brink of starvation

In light of this, countries with significant peripheral regions depend on food imports – in some cases for more than 80% of their needs. But pandemic and war-related disruptions, along with the price increases they have fueled, have shown how vulnerable such countries are.

According to the FAO State of Food and Agriculture 2021 report, an additional 161 million people were affected by hunger in 2020 compared to 2019. And the World Food Program is now warning that the combination of conflict, COVID, the climate crisis and rising costs have been driving this 44 million people in 38 countries on the brink of famine.

As countries struggle to secure enough food to meet the nutritional needs of their populations, many are now reassessing their food dependency and seeking to expand local production. But if sustainability is not considered, efforts to increase short-term resilience by shortening supply chains could erode medium- and long-term resilience by further depleting agricultural resources such as soil and water.

Sustainability is not cheap. Efficient production under biophysical and climatic conditions requires investments in expensive technologies. But poor governance structures, limited growth prospects and high debt pose major challenges for many countries. The pandemic has put a massive strain on public budgets, and many governments are facing debt crises as loans taken out to fight the pandemic come due.

Poor and vulnerable countries cannot be expected to deal with the myriad of problems interconnected challenges They face without help, from pollution and biodiversity loss to hunger and poverty.

To strengthen long-term food and nutrition security, we need to look beyond country-level solutions to regional and international solutions that address the needs of communities living in marginalized settings. Otherwise there is no way out of the destabilizing cycles of hunger, migration and violence.

Seta Tutundjian, Founder and CEO of Thriving Solutions, is a member of the International Platform for Food Systems Science’s high-level expert group on the necessity assessment and co-leader of the global initiative “Food is Never Waste”.

This comment was published with the kind permission of project syndicateThe world hunger crisis is here

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As prices soar, here are some ways to reduce your grocery bill Commentary: Climate change, the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine have left hundreds of millions of starving people on the brink

Brian Lowry

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