World hunger is on the rise again due to climate change and war

Global hunger is on the rise for the first time in over a decade, thanks to a toxic combination of localised wars aggravated by climate extremes. In 2016, the number of undernourished people increased year on year for the first time since 2003, when a peak of 947 million people (14.9 per cent of the world’s population) were undernourished. There were 815 million undernourished people in 2016 (11 per cent), up from 777 million in 2015 (10.6 per cent). More than half of those hungry in 2016 – 489 million people – were in countries affected by conflicts. These have rapidly become more numerous, increasingly in tandem with droughts, floods and other climate-related shocks. Advertisement “There’s no doubt that there’s a clear interaction between climate change and conflict,” says Marco Sánchez Cantillo at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which has just published these figures in a report entitled “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”. “They work together to accelerate and deepen the severity of hunger.” For example, the report blames droughts triggered by the cyclical climate phenomenon called El Niño for aggravating the conflicts and food shortages in Somalia, Syria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. It also links conflict-related food crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan with other climate shocks including flooding, droughts not related to El Niño, landslides and cyclones. Together, these problems left 53.5 million people without a reliable source of food. Prolonged droughts are proving to be particularly potent triggers of conflict, says Cantillo. “They lead to severe food crises and famines, like those this year in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and north-east Nigeria,” he says. “They can lead to competition for scarce resources and increase prices, setting up a vicious cycle that spirals down into more food insecurity.” The idea that climate change can cause or aggravate human conflicts has been deeply controversial. The FAO taking a side in the debate suggests a consensus is forming that the effect is real. “This important report provides further evidence that climate-related shocks, especially droughts, exacerbate existing food and water insecurity, and can even contribute to social unrest when thresholds of resilience are crossed,” says Colin Kelley of Columbia University in New York. “In turn, conflict undermines resilience and dramatically reduces access to food and water, with devastating consequences for nutrition and health.” In 2015, Kelley published a much-debated study that linked the current conflict in Syria to a prolonged drought. The report also offers some potential solutions. “We think the hunger uptick is a wake-up call, and things will get worse if we don’t act,” says Cantillo. He argues that the key is to make vulnerable populations more resilient to climate shocks, for example by providing farmers with drought- or flood-resistant crops, or stockpiling emergency food supplies. “The emphasis on making communities more resilient in conflict situations, while laudable, avoids the key problem,” says Peter Brecke at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who has also explored climate change’s historical impacts on conflict. “That problem is the inability of political institutions to resolve competing political demands, leaving groups believing that conflict is the only viable alternative.” More on these topics: climate change food and drink war
Utne Altwire: science

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