Despite increased efforts to end hunger by 2030, the amount of people living in chronic hunger has risen since 2015. The number of people living in hunger is now 821 million people, which corresponds to roughly one in nine people. One of the main culprits? Climate change.
When you think about climate change, it brings about images of melting ice caps and barren land. You may not associate it with world hunger.
However, as global warming increases, levels of hunger become more prevalent. Vulnerable communities are the most likely to suffer the effects of climate change. They lack the appropriate resources and skills to adapt and find solutions to its ever-changing effects. Furthermore, as the effects of climate change build, they cause entrenched issues that contribute to chronic hunger and will take sustained effort to reverse. Like chronic hunger, climate change is complex and multi-faceted with numerous effects. It is creating uncertainty about what the future will look like. This makes it difficult to plan and respond to environmental changes.
The UN’s latest annual report shows that the prevalence and number of undernourished people is higher in countries that are also highly exposed to climate extremes. These also tend to be the countries where the majority of the population depends on agricultural systems that rely on rainfall and consistently optimal temperatures, such as African and Latin American countries.
So how exactly does climate change contribute to world hunger?
It’s no surprise that temperatures are rising. The Earth’s global surface temperature in 2018 was the fourth warmest since 1880. This has a direct impact on crop farming. Each crop has an ideal temperature for growth. If the rising temperatures then exceed that optimal temperature, the yield of that crop will decline, causing a decrease in available food. Furthermore, warmer air holds more moisture and can make precipitation more intense. This can directly damage crops, resulting in decreased yields.
Patterns of rainfall are much trickier to predict than temperature. It is this unpredictability of rainfall patterns in the coming years that is making it difficult to detect patterns and adjust agricultural patterns accordingly. Unlike rising temperatures, the effects of climate change on rainfall will depend on the country. Scientists predict that rainfall will become more extreme based on current patterns, so already wet regions will become wetter and dry regions in the subtropics will become even more dry. With rising temperatures increasing the level of precipitation, it is likely that warmer climates will experience heavier rainfall, however this will come in less frequent, more intense weather events. This could lead to more flooding and longer dry spells, both which have the potential to damage farms.
Extreme Weather Events
The UN have identified extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and heatwaves as key drivers in causing levels of hunger to rise. Like the unpredictability of rainfall, as the climate reacts in a way that hasn’t been seen before, it is difficult to predict weather patterns in different areas. Whilst developed countries are far more equipped to respond to weather crisis’, a natural disaster is a huge burden on developing countries that may not have the adequate resources and funding to respond to the damage. Responding to a weather crisis takes a toll on the resources that families and communities may have been building to help pull themselves out of hunger, as they now have to direct these to the new problem at hand.
Rise of market costs
As a roll-on effect of rising temperatures, erratic rainfall and extreme weather, produce is taking more resources to grow. As such, this might mean a higher cost when it does finally get to the market stall. If food becomes more scarce, it will become more of a valuable resource, and therefore less accessible to those who need it most.
We can still reach our goal of zero hunger by 2030 if we take urgent action on climate change and continue to educate and empower the people living in hunger to create their own solutions to these complex problems. That’s is exactly what we do at The Hunger Project — find sustainable and holistic solutions to end hunger. Find out more about how we work and invest in a sustainable end to hunger.