Climate Change Is Starving Millions Right Now. Why Isn't This A Thing Yet?

March 16, 2017
A version of this article previously appeared on A Peaceful Living.

Food Insecurity and Climate Chnage

This article is part of a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ethical Writers Coalition.

Climate change is no longer an abstract concept that can be relegated to the bottom of our “things we should address eventually”  lists … We are presently in the throes of feeling the very real and serious consequences of a rising climate;  consequences which will become more dire by the year if we continue to live as we’re living without massive intervention on a global scale.

Those of us living in wealthier, more developed countries surely understand that climate change is a complex problem with a range of diverse implications; however, it’s easy to forget how real and serious these implications actually are when one can simply open a faucet to pour a glass of clean water on-demand, drive to the market for access to an unlimited and seemingly endless array of food choices, or have a more than reasonable expectation that one’s food is safe and free from food or water-borne illnesses.

It’s heartening that climate change is a conversation finally happening in the mainstream – one that has become a hot topic among politicians and media outlets. But, these conversations are typically limited to a few very narrow topics like the rise in sea level, air pollution, and protecting clean water.

In order to truly become more considerate of all the impacts climate change is having, we must be willing to expand our perspectives and think more globally; Our conversations need to extend beyond what we already know and regularly discuss.

Climate Change and Food Security

Food Insecurity and Climate Chnage

Did you know that by 2050, the world’s agricultural systems must produce 70% more food* than we have today to meet the demands of a population expected to reach 9.6 billion?

If you audibly gasped after reading that, please know you’re right to be alarmed.

This enormous food gap is daunting in and of itself, but it seems particularly insurmountable to close when compounded with the effects of climate change, as food security and food supplies are among the casualties of global warming.

Individuals most at risk are those in developing countries, most notably women and children, many of whom are already undernourished.  As of 2014, 795 million people are estimated to be undernourished, often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought, and loss of biodiversity (United Nations Development Programme, Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 2: Zero Hunger).

These points are made distressingly clear by the current humanitarian crisis facing over 20 million people in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Kenya; Drought, famine, and unstable political climates compounded by the presence of terrorist groups has displaced many and has left millions of people hungry.  In just two days alone, it has been reported that 110 people in Somalia, mostly women and children, have died from drought-related starvation and disease. Unicef reports that 1.4 million children in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, and Nigeria could die of malnutrition.

The continued trend of a warming climate does not bode well for the health of these regions as higher temperatures will continue to reduce an already strained water supply, shorten growing seasons, and reduce crop yields.

People are considered “food secure” when they have access at all times to sufficient, safe, and nutritious foods.

There are four key dimensions to measure food security:  availability, stability, access, utilization.

Our warming climate and increasingly erratic weather patterns affect food production directly and indirectly across these dimensions.

Direct impacts of climate change would include reduction or unpredictable crop yields due to damages caused by more severe and frequent weather events like cyclones, droughts, and flooding.

In regions that are already drier, for example, a warming climate will reduce the moisture content of soil and has the potential to make agricultural land unsuitable for growing, in addition to increasing the risk of erosion and landslides.

Warmer temperatures may also lead to crop reduction.  The UNDP reports that for each 1 degree of temperature increase, grain yields decline by about 5%. Between 1981 and 2002, maize, wheat, and other major crops have seen significant yield reductions at the global level of 40 megatonnes annually.

Indirect implications of climate change on food security includes restricted access to food due to changes in income or availability, or reduced utilization of food due to an increase in disease.

For example, heavier rainfalls can lead to an increase in water-borne illnesses, like cholera, that would reduce an infected persons’ ability to adequately utilize food due to diarrhea.

But, with the right tools, it is possible to bolster food security by adapting food production to account for the changing climate and prepare for future impacts of climate change; the UNDP works in countries around the world to help facilitate this.

Seed nurseries, drip-irrigation, crop diversification and various other agricultural practices have been introduced to at-risk communities, while climate-resilient crops have replaced climate-sensitive ones.  The UNDP also helps to rehabilitate water harvesting systems.


And because we tend to care more about an issue when we can make some sort of personal or visual connection, I’d like to highlight a region already severely impacted by climate change, which is one of the many projects the UNDP has undertaken to improve food security and access to water.

Greening the Dry Zone of Myanmar

Food insecurity is a growing problem in the Dry Zone of Myanmar, which is a region spanning around 54,000 km and home to around one-third of the country’s population.  Food insecurity, and the chronic poverty that characterizes this region, is closely correlated to the regions droughts and dry spells.  Conversely, during times of heavy rains, communities in this region have become increasingly more susceptible to the perils of flash floods and landslides due to soil erosion.

In areas of the Dry Zone hardest hit by droughts and dry spells, adequate water isn’t always easy to obtain.

I don‘t have time for many dreams in my life. My family is usually struggling for our daily needs… Water is always a big concern. Without rain, I cannot do anything.” Daung Yi, Sin Ka Village, Chauk Township, Magway Region (as quoted in “Greening the Dry Zone: Conserving the Land While Improving Water Access and Food Security in Myanmar“)

Duang Yi is just one of many in her village, and throughout the Dry Zone, who not only pay a significant portion of their income on water, but who endure a significant time-burden traveling to the well nearest to their home.  In Duang Yi’s case, the well is a 15-20 minute walk away.


Individuals who are struggling to meet the basic needs of survival do not have time, or the resources, to improve their lives through education or other income generating activities.

A key project of the UNDP in this area is supporting community-based and community-driven efforts to secure water resources by enhancing water capture and storage to provide continuous freshwater availability to the 280 villages participating in this project. In addition, the benefits of improved water security are maximized by promoting climate-resilient agricultural practices, like the examples listed earlier. Finally, additional farmer-managed projects, like establishing community-based agro forestry plots, are underway to restore and rehabilitate the region’s soil.

Ultimately, these projects benefit the communities through access to water, higher crop yields and access to food through subsistence farming, and economic opportunities through job creation.

Food security issues will continue to be a growing concern in the wake of climate change; what can you do about it today?

With a greater knowledge and understanding of the myriad aspects of a warming climate, we’re in a better position to make appropriate changes in our lives.

And, if there ever was a silver lining in all of this it’s that because we’re largely the cause of climate change, we can actually make changes in our lives to help mitigate the effects.

Reduce over-consumption of calories and reduce consumption of animal-based foods

Take the carbon neutral pledge

Further educate yourself by heading over to the UNDP website for additional information and tools.

Also by Stephanie: 6 Ways to Protect Endangered and Threatened Species

Related: What You Can Do Now to Fight Climate Change In Your City

A Few Smart Initiatives Stand Between Global Warming and Utter Devastation of Our Oceans

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*As measured by calories.


Photo: Oxfam, Pexels, UNDP

Stephanie is the founder of Here and There Collective, a place for eco and vegan friendly content, travel guides, and interviews with movers and shakers in the sustainability space. She is also a monthly columnist at Vilda Magazine and a member of the Ethical Writers Coalition.


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