Climate extremes key driver behind rising global hunger: Report

PARIS • Extreme weather events were a leading cause of rising global hunger last year, with women, babies and old people particularly vulnerable to the worsening trend, the UN said yesterday.

Increasingly frequent shocks such as extreme rainfall or temperatures, as well as droughts, storms and floods helped push the number of undernourished people to 821 million in 2017, it said.

That figure, equivalent to about one in nine people globally, was up from 804 million in 2016, according to the annual report The State Of Food Security And Nutrition In The World.

"The number of people who suffer from hunger has been growing over the past three years, returning to levels that prevailed almost a decade ago. Equally of concern is that 22.2 per cent of children under five are affected by stunting in 2017," said the document.

Low-and middle-income countries were harshly hit by ever-more frequent climate extremes.

"Africa is the region where climate shocks and stressors had the biggest impact on acute food insecurity and malnutrition, affecting 59 million people in 24 countries and requiring urgent humanitarian action," the report said.

Trends were also worsening in South America.

  • 821m

  • The number of undernourished people in 2017.

"If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people's livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes," it added.

While floods, droughts and other extreme weather events have always occurred, scientists say global warming is boosting their frequency and severity.

In countries where conflict and climate shocks coincide, the impact on food insecurity was even more relentless, the report said.

Nearly 66 million people worldwide required urgent humanitarian assistance last year.

Syria, where agriculture is one of the few sectors to have survived the seven-year war, saw its harvest hit by rising temperatures and drought. Already down 40 per cent from pre-conflict levels - from four million tonnes to 2.5 million tonnes - Syria's cereal production will suffer a new reduction this year, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's director of emergencies Dominique Burgeon.


Yemen has suffered an even worse fate, with 35 per cent of the population undernourished, Mr Burgeon said, making the war-torn nation home to the world's "most acute food crisis today".

The UN noted that women are especially vulnerable to the impact of climate extremes, particularly in countries where even a semblance of gender parity remains a distant dream. This is because they often lack access to wealth, education and healthcare.

In India, limited resources, coupled with entrenched gender inequalities, saw poor families feed their boys better than girls when resources were limited.

Babies and young children were more at risk of long-term problems, and even of dying, from diarrhoea caused by disease following floods that rob people of clean water for drinking and sanitation.

Old and disabled people were also hard hit. "In Vietnam, the elderly, widows, disabled people, single mothers and households headed by women with small children were least resilient to floods and storms and slow-onset events such as recurrent droughts," the report said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2018, with the headline 'Climate extremes key driver behind rising global hunger: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe