Hunger and Climate Change
Nearly one in nine people, 821 million worldwide, suffer from hunger . Most hungry people live in lower-middle-income regions, which saw a reduction in the prevalence of undernutrition from 14.7 percent in 2000 to 10.8 percent in 2013 . However, this reduction in world hunger slowed between 2013-2015 and hunger has risen since 2016. As of 2017, Asia has the highest absolute number (count) of undernourished people (515.1 million), while Africa has the largest proportion (as a percentage of the total population) of hunger, estimated at 20.4 [2, 3].
Causes of Hunger
Hunger is primarily caused by poverty, although other causes include conflict, political instability, population growth, and food and agricultural policies and practices, among other causes. 
Over the millennium, climate variability has also contributed to the rise in hunger. Over the last 5 years there has been an up-ward trend in the rise in hunger, in part due to climate change, in part due to conflict, [2, 4]. Weather events can affect the prevalence of hunger by altering agricultural productivity, food availability, food pricing, and food access . Additionally, there are more people in the world living in urban areas and along the coasts, which increases the risk of flooding and extent of damage due to weather-related events. Taken together, these factors can result in loss of assets, increased poverty, and other drivers of hunger.
The Impact of Climate Change on Hunger
Climate change or variability affects agriculture and crop production, which ultimately affects food security. Reports from Senegal, Mali, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia, and Sudan identify drought and rising temperatures as two driving factors of climate change affecting crop yields [5-12]. Historically, drought causes more than 80 percent of the losses in agriculture, especially for the livestock and crop production subsectors . For low-latitude countries, crop production is predicted to be “consistently and negatively affected by climate change” whereby in northern latitude countries, the impacts of climate change on crop production is unclear . Results from multiple studies show that global crop yields of maize, soybeans, wheat and rice were significantly reduced over time due to drought [4, 14]. However, these results were different based on income and environment. Low and middle-income countries in tropical areas faced more negative impacts from climate change due to reductions in water availability and increased heat spells which reduce crop productivity. For high-income countries in temperate zones, climate change may increase crop production by causing longer growing seasons and increased acreage for crop production .
In some cases, climate change may reduce the quality and diversity of diets via income reductions and higher food prices. There is some evidence that affected households engage in coping strategies such as skipping meals, eating less per meal, or eating less nutrient-dense foods, all of which can lead to compromised dietary diversity and quality .
A large proportion of the world’s 821 million hungry people live in developing countries with fragile environments prone to climate hazards, such as Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America . Extreme climate events can affect and disrupt resources and services, such as irrigation systems, trade routes, and food assistance programs, sometimes beyond replacement or repair. Poverty can negatively affect someone’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, leaving them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate extremes, and less able to recover from climate-related events, which exacerbates conditions of poverty and inequality . Thus there is a cyclical effect: climate-related disasters create and sustain poverty, which contribute to increased food insecurity and malnutrition as well as current and future vulnerability to climate extremes .
National Security & Conflict
Many areas that are affected by climate change are also affected by conflict; however, how climate change contributes to conflict is not well understood . Increased conflict can result in population displacement, disruption to typical livelihood activities, and loss of access to food and income. Issues of national security including political conflict and civil unrest can exacerbate hunger, as seen in multiple countries across Africa such as South Sudan, Yemen, and Nigeria [15-17]. Mali is one example of how climate change can affect conflict: in 2012, a region-wide drought killed livestock and devastated the livelihoods of pastoralists, causing an increase in rebel factions, as well as looting and stealing .
Actions to Reduce the Impact of Climate Change
Agriculture is affected by climate change, but also contributes to its effect. Between 2001 and 2011, global emissions of greenhouse gas emissions from crop and livestock production grew by 14 percent . Agriculture is also a major contributor to deforestation and soil degradation. Adopting climate-smart agricultural practices can help to reduce the effect of climate change on hunger. One method includes increasing crop diversity . Crop and farm animal biodiversity is an important driver for enhancing the resilience and productivity of small-scale family farmers facing climate change, drought, and pest and disease outbreaks, thus improving food access . One example of crop diversification is in Malawi, where diversifying maize mono-cropping with legumes has significantly reduced crop income variability . Another strategy involves using more efficient water management systems, including new water sources, irrigation, drainage, water harvesting and saving technologies, desalination and storm- and wastewater management .
Another method to reduce the impact of climate change on hunger is to adopt vulnerability reducing measures. This includes helping people diversify their sources of income and livelihood , especially empowering women and other vulnerable groups. Gender-responsive programs in Ethiopia, Malawi, Senegal and Zambia have helped women become less vulnerable to climate risks and more empowered to increase the food security and nutrition of their families . For example, in Senegal, women have improved soil quality and crop productivity by acquiring new techniques and learning how to combat land degradation.
Finally, national governments adopting resilience policies and practices such as risk monitoring and early warning systems for extreme weather, emergency response, and preparedness helps reduce the impact of climate change on hunger.
Primary Author: Autumn G. Hullings, MPH, George Washington University, Milken Institute School of Public Health
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