Are Climate Change And COVID-19 Threat Multipliers For Food Insecurity?

Unpredictable weather conditions, unsustainable methods of food production, and COVID-19 are all catalysts in the imminent threat of global food insecurity. Climate change has been a global issue that has sparked recent debate and action amidst grave warnings from scientists over concern for the future sustainability of our environment and natural resources. The current exploitation of the environment caused by unsustainable agricultural and industrial processes is not sufficient to meet the environmental standards for future generations and contribute to the onset of climate change. Thus, the problem that the world is facing right now is the threat of food insecurity being exacerbated by climate change and further problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


A scientific assessment commissioned by The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has reported that agriculture has “a monumental impact on earth’s infinite resources.” Paradoxically, our methods of food sourcing and production are contributing to famine, one of the leading causes of future food insecurity. The Global Network against Food Crises has accredited three main factors to the worsening of famine. These factors reported are conflict, climate change, and economic factors about the COVID-19 pandemic.


Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations have called for further support for countries with great famine. More than 250 NGOs have signed an open letter to world leaders to address the crisis of famine and inequality. As well as this, many independent governments are finding solutions to secure national food security, such as efforts made by Canada to invest and enhance sustainable food production through increased soil health and research.


Because of the global economic recession, global food prices have risen by 38 percent since January 2020, maize prices have risen by 80 percent, and wheat prices have increased by 28 percent. The reduced incomes and disruptions in commodity supply chains have caused many households to go hungry or forced families to reduce their food consumption. The recession of international economies has created a bottleneck in supply chains in which affects not only western countries but also countries of the ‘Global South’ who are already facing extreme levels of starvation and hunger. Through a spike in food prices and unsustainable food sourcing practices, there is the imminent issue of worldwide food insecurity, which can cause catastrophic consequences for those communities that are already vulnerable to famine. Conflict-ridden Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Sudan, are already in dire situations, with almost 60 percent of Syria’s population being food insecure.

As well as a spike in food prices, the unsustainable industrial methods of production and agriculture have resulted in further issues when it comes to both producing and sourcing food. Climate change manifests unpredictable weather patterns such as storms and droughts, rising sea waters, and the global increase in temperature. These changing conditions result in less land being available to produce crops and unpredictable weather changes that are not compatible with production conditions. From a study conducted on the causes of the 2007 food shortages in Lesotho, researchers found a direct correlation between climate change and the scarcity of maize and the spike in maize prices.


The threat multiplying nature of these two factors is putting pressure on communities who already face extreme famine. Famine has catastrophic health impacts, the majority of which affect women and children. Reduced food consumption results in deficiency diseases such as anemia and can affect young children’s cognitive and physical growth. According to statistics, an estimated 31.9 million children suffer from stunted growth as a result of malnourishment.


According to Oxfam, the world’s leading economically developed countries are still slashing their food aid even though the most vulnerable communities who rely on aid donations are dealing with the brunt of climate change, as well as great food scarcities. In order to address the worsening situation of food insecurity, world leaders need to acknowledge the interrelation between climate change, COVID19, and food. They work collectively on regional and international levels to help those already in famine and prevent further food insecurity.


In order to ensure future food security, independent nations must work to implement their systems that focus on long-term sustainability and ensure the capacity of the earth’s natural resources. Examples led by countries such as Canada show independent national strategies to cope with food security. Other examples of regional policies that can be implemented independently are renewable energy, waste management, and recycling processes. In addition, a state policy that implements processes to prevent and adapt to challenges of climate change are essential ways in which world leaders can work together to collectively combat the global issue of food insecurity at the root of the problem.


However, famine is still a harsh reality for many communities in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are threat multipliers for these communities who are more vulnerable to the unpredictable nature of changing climate and disease. As well as this, these countries have minimal resources to deal with these issues and cannot adapt to changes as western countries do. Increased international support and help for communities that are more vulnerable to food insecurity is an urgent matter for international organizations such as the United Nations to address.


According to a report by The European Union, 155 million people in 55 different countries faced acute shortages in 2020, which was 20 million more people compared to 2019. Positive steps have been made in countries such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Emergency project funds have been implemented to strengthen local food production and help locals adapt to climate change and COVID-19. However, without any long-term resolution efforts, these countries face the threat of their current famine being exacerbated due to the threat caused by the evolving nature of climate change and rising food prices.


Resolution to food scarcity and famine is challenging. However, it can be achieved through consistent support from aid donors, support from international organizations, as well as adaptive and preventative climate change strategies implemented by regional state actors. To adequately resolve famine and prevent further food insecurity in vulnerable countries, NGOs should work towards implementing short-term resolutions as well as long-term ones. Actions to ensure low costs for local consumers and enable local communities to better adapt to the changing climate and environment are equally essential.


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