Climate change and global hunger are so intertwined that it is impossible to address one without considering the other. Extreme weather events – such as hurricanes, droughts, flash floods, and desertification – have doubled in the last 30 year . These events can produce disastrous effects including food shortages, contaminated water, and economic instability, all of which contribute to hunger and malnutrition, literally and figuratively eroding hunger reduction efforts around the world.
Underpinning the relationship between hunger, malnutrition, and climate change is the fact that 80% of the world’s food insecure individuals live in areas that are prone to natural disasters . The high occurrence of extreme weather events in these areas leads to a cycle of food insecurity that promotes malnutrition, and it is very difficult for impacted communities to reverse the cycle. According to World Food Program USA, the cycle of climate change-induced global hunger is as follows :
- Disaster strikes. The individuals in areas that are prone to climate change events are often not able to adapt. When a disaster happens, the damage is severe and agonizing.
- Immediate effects. Disaster-stricken communities experience the destruction of farmland, crops, livestock, homes, and even human lives.
- Coping measures. Food prices increase as shortages occur. In an effort to deal with the devastating effects of the disaster, children are pulled from school, everyone gets less to eat, and families sell their assets in order to put food on the table.
- Food and nutrition crisis. The situation worsens as families are less and less able to afford food. Eventually, many families have no choice but to rely on public assistance.
- Long-term impacts. Malnutrition becomes an issue as food intake and dietary variety continue to decrease. Women are at the greatest risk of malnourishment, and children experience stunting and wasting.
- Another disaster strikes. These already fragile communities, whose members are still dealing with the effects of the previous disaster, are not able to cope with the next one. The situation becomes more dire with each subsequent climate change event, as people are so malnourished in their community yet lack the resources they would need to leave.
And so the hardships continue. Global temperatures are expected to continue rising over the next 30 years, producing more frequent and severe natural disasters. Reversing this trend will require cutting carbon emissions to zero, a feat that does not appear likely to occur without a coordinated, global effort. Elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have reduced the nutritional value of foods, inflaming the issue of global hunger and malnutrition. To complicate matters further, increasing food production, a necessary step in tackling the hunger crisis, will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions if done using current industrial farming methods .
The existence of climate-friendly, resilience-promoting farming techniques provides some hope that disaster-prone communities will one day be able to maintain food systems that produce enough food to eliminate malnutrition while withstanding future natural disasters. Regenerative agriculture is a method of farming that is not only more sustainable, but also works restore the natural resources that are used for food production . It involves strategies such as no-till farming, cover cropping, and diversification, all of which enhance the nutrient density and overall health of the soil . Healthy soil sequesters more carbon, which helps reduce climate change. Additionally, healthy soil is resilient soil. When drought or flooding occurs, healthy soil is able to recover faster, resulting in less food loss. And soil that is nutrient-dense grows more nutrient-dense food, which helps combat malnutrition.
Climate change, global hunger, and malnutrition are inextricably linked. To address one, we must address them all. Mitigating climate change by implementing regenerative agriculture farming methods is one strategy that can effectively address hunger and malnutrition, if done on a large enough scale. By working to reverse climate change, we increase the possibility of eradicating global hunger for good.
- “UN Warns Climate Change Is Driving Global Hunger.” unfccc.int, September 12, 2018. https://unfccc.int/news/un-warns-climate-change-is-driving-global-hunger.
- Extreme Weather = Extreme Hunger. Accessed December 14, 2020. https://www.wfpusa.org/climate-change-infographic/.
- “This Is How Climate Change Causes Hunger in 6 Steps.” World Food Program USA, March 10, 2020. https://www.wfpusa.org/multimedia/infographic-resilience-to-climate-change-2018/.
- “Climate Change and Hunger.” World Food Program USA, October 28, 2020. https://www.wfpusa.org/explore/wfps-work/drivers-of-hunger/climate-change/.
- Taylor, David A., and Davide Bonazzi. “Tackling Climate Change and Global Hunger.” Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine, February 17, 2020. https://magazine.jhsph.edu/2020/tackling-climate-change-and-global-hunger.
- Project, The Climate Reality. “What Is Regenerative Agriculture?” Climate Reality, November 6, 2019. https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/what-regenerative-agriculture.