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Climate change and natural resource depletion are causing the number of people suffering from hunger to rise following years of decline, according to three major reports.
Record food production and falling prices had generally boosted food security in recent years, the Economist Intelligence Unit said last week [26 September] in the latest edition of its annual index on global food security.
But it warned that fluctuating global economic growth, increasing inequality, political instability and forced migration were all damaging food security. Climate change and depletion of natural resources would aggravate the trend, severely threatening targets under the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate hunger by 2030, it said.
815 milion people
So seriously does the research group take the threat that it has added a new category to its index to understand the impact the risk to resilience to shocks on natural resources will have on global food security. Many countries scored more poorly when this category was taken into account, for example, Singapore dropped 15 spots in the country rankings due to its susceptibility to rising sea levels and high dependence on food imports.
Meanwhile, a UN report warned that 815 million people, or 11% of the world population, were going hungry in 2016. This was an increase of 38 million compared with the previous year, and was largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks, it said.
Conflicts had risen dramatically in number and complexity over the past decade, and some of the highest proportions of children suffering from hunger and malnutrition were concentrated in conflict zones, the report stated.
Climate related shocks
The prevalence of hunger in countries affected by conflict is 1.4 – 4.4 percentage points higher than in other countries, while in conflict zones compounded by a degraded environment, the prevalence is 11 and 18 percentage points higher, the report stated.
“Exacerbated by climate-related shocks, conflicts seriously affect food security and are a cause of much of the recent increase in food insecurity,” it said.
However, even in more peaceful regions, droughts or floods linked in part to the El Niño weather phenomenon have also seen food security and nutrition deteriorate, they added.
World’s poorest suffer most
Oxfam’s head of food and climate change Robin Willoughby said: “This must act as a wake-up call for international leaders and institutions to do more to resolve the catastrophic cocktail of climate change and conflict around the world. Global failure to tackle these issues affects us all, but it’s the world’s poorest who will suffer most.”
Finally, the Food and Agriculture Organisation said that good harvests in Latin America and rebounding agricultural conditions in Southern Africa were improving global food supply, but that ongoing civil conflicts and climate-related shocks were affecting progress in reducing hunger.
The UN agency estimated that 37 countries are currently in need of food aid. Persisting conflicts have continued to acutely affect agricultural production and food security conditions. Weather shocks, including floods in West Africa, hurricanes in the Caribbean and droughts in parts of East Africa, have compounded the fragile conditions in some of the conflict-affected countries and also resulted in production shortfalls, reducing the amount of food available, its report stated.
Production of cereal crops was expected to rise moderately in 2017, but hurricane Irma was expected to depress production in the affected areas, particularly in the Caribbean islands, it added.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.
This article originally appeared in The Ecologist.