Conflict and climate change lead to a rise in global hunger

October 4, 2017 by Evan Fraser, The Conversation
122 million of 155 million stunted children live in conflict countries. Credit: Piyaset/Shutterstock.com

Last year about 11 per cent of the total human population (approximately 850 million people on the planet) suffered from daily hunger, according to a recent United Nations report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world.

This is a tragedy no matter how you look at it. The numbers show a 4.5 per cent increase—or 38 million more hungry people —from the previous year. This rise in hunger is especially significant because it is the first rise in global hunger we have seen in more than a decade.

Though global hunger was at 14 per cent of the world's population in 2005, each year since then, between 2005 and 2016, the number of hungry people on the planet dropped. Development officials were cautiously optimistic that we were on our way to eradicating hunger.

Conflict and are the culprits behind this year's rise in numbers.

According to the United Nations, worsened across major parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Western Asia. For instance, South Sudan is mired in conflict and experienced a major famine earlier this year.

Bad weather can lead to conflict

If you overlay a map of the world's conflicts with a map of the world's worst security problems, there is a clear connection. The UN notes 20 million people are at risk of dying of hunger not only in South Sudan but also Somalia, Yemen and the northeast tip of Nigeria. All of these areas are affected by conflicts that undermine people's ability to feed themselves.

Similarly, deteriorating have ravaged many of these areas. The UN report notes that Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Yemen all experienced bad floods in 2016 while Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria all suffered bad droughts.

What we are probably witnessing is an interaction between deteriorating environmental conditions that help exacerbate already existing social tensions and undermine the livelihoods of millions.

We've been here before; history shows us that there are often links between and .

For instance, there is a complex but well-established connection between droughts and the start of the Syrian Civil War. It seems that faltering rainfall in the early 2000s upended Syria's rural communities and brought people into cities where they began protesting political corruption in the Assad government.

Similarly, there is a link between droughts and the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s. And if we look further back in time, it is well-recognized by historians that the French Revolution began as protests over food prices after harvest failures sent waves of penniless refugees into the streets of Paris.

Possible solution: drought-tolerant crops

Luckily, there are potential solutions—even right here in Canada. For example, at the University of Guelph we are breeding more drought-tolerant varieties of our important crops. We can promote agricultural practices that build up the soil's organic matter. The extra organic matter acts like a sponge by trapping rainfall and holding onto it for when it is needed.

In addition, we can support international development projects focusing in particular on female-headed households, to help small-scale farmers access markets and become more efficient. Focusing on women is critical because in Africa, as much as 80 per cent of food is produced by small farmers who are mostly rural women.

For years, academics and activists have been trying to raise alarm bells that population growth and climate change will make it increasingly hard to maintain food security over the next generation, and that conflict is almost inevitable as a result.

But until this year, there didn't seem to be much data, outside of historic antecedents, to confirm these worries. With hunger decreasing every year, what was the big deal? But the uptick in signalled in this most recent UN report should focus our attention.

In the future, will we remember 2017 as the year when we started to lose the battle to ensure the future is well fed? Or will we heed this warning and take the actions necessary to help communities everywhere build more resilient food systems?

Explore further: Climate change aggravates global hunger: UN

Related Stories

Climate change aggravates global hunger: UN

September 15, 2017

Hunger is on the increase across the globe once again after a decade of declines, a UN report said Friday, thanks in part to climate change aggravating severe weather and conflicts.

UN: Fewer hungry people in the world despite wars, poverty

May 27, 2015

The number of hungry people around the world has dropped to 795 million from over a billion a quarter-century ago despite natural disasters, ongoing conflicts and poverty, the three U.N. food agencies said Wednesday.

A decade later, older Americans are still going hungry

September 6, 2017

Hunger does not respect age. A recent report comparing data from 2007 to 2015 finds 5.4 million people age 60 or older in the U.S., or 8.1 percent, are food insecure. Although this percentage went down from 2014 to 2015, ...

Recommended for you

World Heritage sites threatened by sea level rise

October 16, 2018

From Venice and the tower of Pisa to the medieval city of Rhodes, dozens of UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Mediterranean basin are deeply threatened by rising sea levels, researchers warned Tuesday.

Was life on the early Earth purple?

October 16, 2018

Early life forms on Earth may have been able to generate metabolic energy from sunlight using a purple-pigmented molecule called retinal that possibly predates the evolution of chlorophyll and photosynthesis. If retinal has ...

New interactive scenario explorer for 1.5 degrees C pathways

October 16, 2018

IIASA and the Integrated Assessment Modeling Consortium (IAMC) have made the scenarios underlying last week's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C Special Report publicly available in an interactive online ...

Two degrees decimated Puerto Rico's insect populations

October 15, 2018

While temperatures in the tropical forests of northeastern Puerto Rico have climbed two degrees Celsius since the mid-1970s, the biomass of arthropods—invertebrate animals such as insects, millipedes, and sowbugs—has ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.