Climate Change Could Become a Leading Cause of Hunger

Without mitigation strategies, the number of undernourished is estimated to rise by 24 million by 2050.
ACF cash-for-work programs in Gonaïves, Haiti. Photo: ACF-Haiti
ACF cash-for-work programs in Gonaïves, Haiti, after cyclones damaged much of the city. ACF-Haiti

As international leaders descended on the coastal city of Durban, South Africa to determine environmental restrictions on some of the world’s worst pollutants, Action Against Hunger has urged the UN’s 2011 Climate Change Conference to act swiftly to institute programs to stave off the catastrophic effects that climate shocks are already having on developing countries.

The 17th conference on climate change aims to advance the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, which specifies legal limits for carbon dioxide emissions. However, many argue that the time for prevention has long expired and that nations must now act to reduce the causes of global warming while prioritizing disaster preparedness in countries already experiencing climate shocks.

“While the industrialized countries and emerging economies work to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, we must prioritize adaptation and mitigation strategies, without which we face even greater threats to global food security—especially among the already vulnerable.”
—Frederic Ham, Head of Risk Reduction & Disaster Preparedness, Action Against Hunger

Though many populations face recurrent natural disasters around the world, the intensity of these floods, cyclones and droughts has only increased in both scale and impact—as currently seen in the Horn of Africa—and routinely undermine the livelihoods and well-being of the most vulnerable. By 2050, climate change is expected to increase the number of undernourished people by 24 million—21 percent more than without the effects of climate change—a recent World Food Program report states. Current UN estimates suggest that just under a billion people in the world are undernourished.

From Reaction to Preparation

Ninety percent of those affected by catastrophic natural disasters live in developing countries, many of whom inhabit marginal, disaster-prone areas—arid deserts, flood plains or urban slums. With millions at risk of even more frequent, more intense climate-related disasters, Action Against Hunger has worked with communities around the world to anticipate and prepare for routine natural disasters by putting measures in place to minimize risks and build long-term resiliency.

In countries such as Guatemala, Indonesia and Ethiopia, ACF’s disaster risk reduction programs include setting up early warning systems for coastal communities at-risk of cyclones and tsunamis, training for agro-pastoralists in arid regions to help conserve water, protect livestock and work with drought-resistant seeds, the installation of flood-resistant water wells and routine public health campaigns to help communities protect themselves from water-borne illness in flood-prone regions.

“Working with communities on risk awareness is one of the most important steps in addressing this new reality of climate shocks. ACF’s livelihood strategies are dynamic and change with new knowledge and information, but each new crisis forges profound adjustments in the way we respond and prepare for future needs among these vulnerable communities.”
—Frederic Ham, Head of Risk Reduction & Disaster Preparedness, Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger has sent a delegation to Durban to address climate change and disaster preparedness. For more on ACF’s findings and research on climate shocks and disaster risk reduction, view, Changing Climate, Changing Lives, a joint technical report that examines the realities behind climate shocks in Mali and Ethiopia and offers policy recommendations to promote food security and climate-resilient livelihoods.

How have climate shocks affected you? What other strategies should countries adopt to fight recurring climate shocks?