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The Cost of Climate Change: Food Security for the World’s Poor

In Zimbabwe, over 4 million people are likely go hungry at some point during 2016. For a country once considered the breadbasket of Southern Africa, food availability per person in 2014 was the lowest ever recorded according to the World Bank. This spring’s absent harvest will leave the country desperately requiring food assistance, just as neighboring nations struggle to meet their own demands. Although the government of Zimbabwe has appealed for $1.6 billion in food aid from the international community, initial delays and a lack of preparedness by the government means that such assistance may come too late.

Poor governance and climate change-related weather events threaten to create chronic food insecurity for populations living across the developing world. 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years on record due to a combination of greenhouse gases increasing the world’s baseline temperature, and a strong El Niño weather pattern. One of the adverse effects of El Niño is that areas including India, Australia, and the eastern coast of Africa receive much less rain than usual, and new research warns that rising greenhouse gases may double the number of extreme El Niño weather events.

Given the unpredictability of weather and its effects on agricultural production, long-term planning is crucial. Amid predictions of poor conditions for agriculture in 2015 and 2016, several Asian countries began organizing early by securing stockpiles of rice. Already, analysts are predicting that the current El Niño system will lead to decreased yields for maize, wheat, and rice by up to 5 percent across the globe.

Smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, a group which includes 60 percent of all women living in the region, will experience the effects of climate change thehardest. Over 95 percent of agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa lacks irrigation, and is therefore highly vulnerable to the reduced rainfall caused by El Niño. Average temperatures in Africa are also expected to rise 1.5 times faster than the global average, while its population doubles by 2050. African maize, the primary staple for most people in Southern Africa, may be completely devastated in ten years’ time in the absence of meaningful policy interventions.


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