Food is an essential, but scarce, resource in many parts of world. Global conflicts, climate change and supply disruptions from COVID-19 have exacerbated the problem. This article takes a closer look at the impact of climate change on today’s food crisis.
Extreme weather is a driver of world hunger.
As global temperatures and sea levels rise, the result is more heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires. Those conditions make it difficult for farmers to grow food and for the hungry to get it.
Scientific studies indicate that extreme weather events will likely become more frequent or more intense due to human-induced climate change.
“The climate crisis is a crisis of natural disasters, of floods and storms and heat waves,” U.S. Representative to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in August. “But it also directly leads to a food security crisis. It makes it much harder to feed people.”
Extreme weather events and conflict are the top two drivers of forced displacement globally, together responsible for driving nearly 30 million people (PDF, 611KB) from their homes annually, the White House reported.
Human-induced climate change amplifies the impacts of naturally occurring weather patterns, such as La Niña in the Pacific Ocean. During a La Niña event, Pacific Ocean temperature changes can affect tropical rainfall patterns from Indonesia to the west coast of South America, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains.
The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) says that recurrent La Niña conditions since late 2020 are causing crop and livestock losses (PDF, 611KB), particularly in East and West Africa, Central Asia, and Central America and the Caribbean.
Africa particularly hard hit
Extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and severe in Africa.
Here are some ways climate contributes to Africa’s food crisis:
- Average temperatures are rising faster in Africa than in the rest of the world.
- Rainfall is increasing in Africa by 30% in wet regions and decreasing by 20% in dry regions.
- 95% of Africa’s farmers rely on rainfall and do not have irrigation systems.
Before 1999, a poor rainy season in Africa occurred every five or six years. Today, farmers grapple with lack of rain every two or three years, according to the International Livestock Research Institute.
Across Africa, agricultural productivity has declined by 34% due to climate change, more than in any other region, the U.N. says.
The Horn of Africa has been particularly affected. Lack of rain in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia is the worst in at least the last 70 years. Four consecutive rainy seasons have failed, and the next is expected to fail too. Almost half of Somalia’s population is considered food insecure. Experts warn that famine could emerge in several districts this year without a surge of additional humanitarian assistance.
Elsewhere in Africa, Madagascar’s Grand Sud area, the nation’s far southern provinces, recorded its worst drought since 1981 and three consecutive years of poor harvests, WFP says.
Climate change also threatens African marine and freshwater fisheries, on which millions of Africans rely for food.
Unprecedented floods and U.S. assistance
Lack of rain and extreme heat kill livestock and damage crops but so does too much rain.
- Pakistan was hit with catastrophic monsoon floods at the end of August, affecting 33 million people.
- South Sudan faces a fourth consecutive year of flooding.
- Nigeria in 2021 experienced a delay in rainfall, which reduced its harvest by over 65%. When the rains did come, the resulting floods wiped out what was left.
- In Latin America, expected above-average rainfall in parts of Guatemala and Honduras increases the chances of flooding in low-lying areas this year, WFP said.
Since February, the U.S. government has committed $8.2 billion billion in humanitarian assistance and $2.9 billion in development aid to address the world food crisis.
The Biden administration will work with Congress to invest over $11 billion worldwide over five years toward a goal of “durable agricultural production,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said September 20, referring to agricultural practices that can withstand the shocks of climate change and weather extremes.
“The well-being of our people depends on the food security that we build together,” the secretary said.