Climate change feared to create global food crisis
The Observer, Apr 20, 2013
LONDON—When Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire Dec. 17, 2010, it was in protest at heavy-handed treatment and harassment in his province. But a host of new studies suggest that a major factor in the subsequent uprisings that became known as the Arab Spring was food insecurity.
Drought, rocketing bread prices, food and water shortages have all blighted parts of the Middle East. Analysts at the Center for American Progress in Washington say a combination of food shortages and other environmental factors are exacerbating the already tense politics of the region. An unpublished U.S. government study indicates that the world needs to prepare for much more of the same as food prices spiral and long-standing agricultural practices are disrupted by climate change.
"We should expect much more political destabilization of countries as it bites," said Richard Choularton, a policy officer in the U.N. World Food Program’s climate change office. "What is different now from 20 years ago is that far more people are living in places with a higher climatic risk: 650 million people now live in arid or semiarid areas where floods and droughts and price shocks are expected to have the most impact.
"The recent crises in the Horn of Africa and Sahel may be becoming the new normal. Droughts are expected to become more frequent. Studies suggest anything up to 200 million more food-insecure people by 2050 or an additional 24 million malnourished children. In parts of Africa we already have a protracted and growing humanitarian disaster," he said. "Climate change is a creeping disaster."
Former Irish President Mary Robinson’s foundation for climate justice is hosting a major conference in Dublin this week. Research presented there said that rising incomes and growth in the global population, expected to create 2 billion more mouths to feed by 2050, will drive food prices higher by 40 to 50 percent.
"We must prepare today for higher temperatures in all sectors," said Gerald Nelson, a senior economist with the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
All of the studies suggest the worst impacts will be felt by the poorest people. Robinson, Ireland’s first female president, said: “Climate change is already having a domino effect on food and nutritional security for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Child malnutrition is predicted to increase by 20 percent by 2050.”
But from Europe to the U.S. to Asia, no population will remain insulated from the huge changes in food production that the rest of the century will bring.