Researchers say climate change – in addition to conflict and economic downturns – is behind a worrisome increase in 'chronic hunger' worldwide
CHICAGO — Days ahead of annual climate talks in Poland, the U.N. reports that climate change is partly to blame for three consecutive years of increased global hunger — a major setback after decades of improving food security.
Cindy Holleman is a senior economist at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.
“This is what we call ‘chronic hunger.’ It’s not the big-scale emergencies of famine. Chronic hunger is more of those that throughout a year people have inadequate access to food, to really have a healthy, active life.”
While chronic hunger has long been tied to conflicts and economic downturns, it’s time to add climate change to the mix, as seasons shift and temperatures grow more extreme and unpredictable.
In Central America, droughts have decimated livestock and crops, and led to increased migration. In parts of Asia, meanwhile, storms and floods have jeopardized infrastructure and threatened farms that often form the backbone of the labor market.
Drought-resistant seeds and improved tilling techniques could lessen that damage, but technology isn’t a silver bullet.
“In some regions, there are limits to adaptation. There are areas that are too marginalized — they keep being hit by drought and insufficient rainfall — where it’s not really sustainable, even with technological solutions.”
In parts of the Horn of Africa, for instance, farming may not be viable again. But abandoning agriculture across wide swaths of the planet — where in many low-income countries, as much as 80 percent of populations remain in rural areas — isn’t an option either.
“It’s not practical to say we’re going to turn everything into high-production agriculture, big corporations producing food and move all the people to urban areas. There’s too many people whose livelihoods depend on it.”
The only solution, then, will be to stop the worst effects of climate change before they occur. To the climate negotiators gathering in Poland: No pressure.