World Environment Day: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that due to the COVID crisis, the number of acute food-insecure people across the globe will double to 270 million in 2020-21, writes Bishow Parajuli
New Delhi:World Environment Day 2021 comes at the intersection of exceptional circumstances. COVID-19, a global pandemic that has disrupted the world for close to two years now; a looming global hunger crisis fuelled by the pandemic and conflict; and a tipping point in the ongoing climate crisis. This confluence is interconnected in terms of cause and impact. Hence, being an optimist, I would like to look at the year as the first of a decade when humankind takes decisive actions to address challenges through unprecedented commitment, innovation, and collaboration to make peace with the environment and end hunger. This year also marks the decade of action for pushing towards the Sustainable Development Goals targets by 2030.
The Impact Of A Warmer And Hungry World
Globally, some 690 million people do not get enough to eat. Over half of this population lives in Asia. About 10 million people are added each year to the total number of hungry people. COVID-19 pandemic has emerged as a major food security and livelihood threat to millions. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that due to the COVID crisis, the number of acute food-insecure people across the globe will double to 270 million in 2020-21.
Destruction of the environment and climate change have been key drivers of the recent rise in global hunger. Climate-related events – particularly floods, storms, and droughts – are becoming more frequent and intense, land and water scarcer and more difficult to access, and increases in agricultural productivity even harder to achieve. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that, unless considerable efforts are made to improve people’s resilience, the risk of hunger and child malnutrition could increase by up to 20 per cent due to climate change by 2050.
It is important to bear in mind that, over 80 per cent of the world’s food-insecure live in degraded environments exposed to storms, floods, drought). With a rising temperature and a warming world, extreme climate conditions becoming more frequent and severe.
As per IPCC estimates, a world that is 2 °C warmer is likely to have 189 million more food-insecure people. WFP calculations show that this is an increase of around 20 per cent compared with today.
FAO estimates that over 500 million smallholder farms, producing more than 80 per cent of the world’s food in terms of value, and 750 million extremely poor people working in agriculture – usually as smallholder family farmers – are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
The number of people affected by hunger in the world continues to increase. This trend started in 2014 and extends to 2019. There are nearly 60 million more undernourished people now than in 2014. The reason for this growth centered primarily on climate shocks. This disturbing trend, and now the COVID-19 impact, challenge the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG) on Zero Hunger by 2030, shows a 2019 report by Global Center on Adaptation.
As degradation of the environment and climate change continue unabated the livelihoods and food security of millions are under threat contributing to insecurity and hunger.
The COVID-19 Pandemic Shock And Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic marks not just a watershed moment for humanity in terms of health, social and economic disruption but also one of the most challenging periods for the developmental gains and targets that the world leaders and institutions have made over decades towards ending poverty and hunger.
COVID-19 poses a threat to food systems, indirectly reducing purchasing power and the capacity to produce and distribute food, which affects the most vulnerable populations. In 2020, according to an earlier prediction, up to 132 million more people faced suffering from undernourishment because of COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the food security and nutrition for millions of people around the world and will likely reverse the progress made towards ending hunger by 2030”, had said Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Health and Family Welfare, earlier this year, as quoted by a news agency PTI.
The Link Between Environment And Food: Changing The Way Food Systems Work
There is another aspect to the linkage between environment and food that needs to be addressed through what is called the Food Systems approach. Food systems, which encompass actors (such as farmers, credit lender) and processes like production, processing, distribution, consumption, and disposal, contribute nearly 30 per cent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural production, including indirect emissions associated with land-cover change, contributes nearly 86 per cent of total food system emissions.
Greening the food systems in addition to creating environmental sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint by investing in sustainable livelihoods, ensuring the availability of safe, nutritious, affordable food to everyone, improving efficiencies, reducing inequalities and strengthening climate resilience are key to achieving zero hunger and sustainable environment simultaneously.
India Remains Critical To Achieving Environmental And Food Security
Though India has made remarkable progress against hunger and malnutrition, it is home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide. Add to this India’s vulnerability to the impact of climate change with a very large base of a vulnerable population, and greater dependence on agriculture in general and rain-fed agriculture in particular.
India was the seventh most affected by the devastating impact of climate change globally in 2019 according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021.
Climate Change is a reality and threatening the livelihoods of at-risk communities, forcing distressed migration from rural to urban areas, and also impacting the food security and nutrition in India. These impacts accentuate poverty, particularly among the rural poor, when such degradation impacts soil fertility, quantity, and quality of water, air quality, forests, wildlife, and fisheries.
Food systems in India, like elsewhere, are likely to become more precarious with changes in timings, intensity, or rainfall. The increasing incidence of extreme events may force people to migrate giving rise to conflicts over access to scarce resources.
What We Need To Focus On
There is a need to promote sustainable food systems, ensure large-scale food safety-nets leave no one behind and inclusive growth, with women’s involvement.
Climate Changes is to stay; it will continue to affect agriculture and food security and the poor and vulnerable will be impacted. It must be part of the planning, policy, and program in agriculture, food security, and livelihood to have a continued better understanding of the situation with scientific research and planning.
Preparedness, early warning, adaptation, food diversification, and resilience-building are key in the agriculture and livelihood sectors. Engage in the resilient program and adapt to the changing situations with new varieties of crops and establishment of irrigation system and incentive program and promotion of crop plantation based on appropriate agro-climate zones.
There must be continued efforts in legal protection for the vulnerable. The Food Security laws and extension of support through various programs and responses to protect the most vulnerable and the needy population for example Food Security Act and COVID-19 response like the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana are great examples to continue to improvise and make effective with examples such as the one nation, one ration card system, addressing the exclusion and food diversity.
Taking Game-Changing Ideas To Scale
Interventions that can have a positive influence on food systems include Home Grown School Meals, which connect local smallholder farmers to the supply chain of school meals programs; fortification initiatives that help communities access locally produced nutritious food; the creation and rehabilitation of infrastructure in exchange for food or cash-based assistance; strengthening public food reserves; and supporting smallholder farmers through the facilitation of credit, capacity development and access to markets.
We must focus on promoting the idea of a Circular Economy to make processes sustainable in terms of the use of materials along the entire chain from production to consumption when all materials are reused or recycled and returned to the production cycle.
A third of all food produced is lost or wasted, which not only does not contribute to food security and nutrition but also increases the burden on natural resources. Lost or wasted energy used for food production accounts for about 10 per cent of the world’s total energy consumption, and annual greenhouse gas emissions associated with food losses and food waste reach 3.5 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, states FAO.
Time To Act Now!
The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is #GenerationRestoration which is a blend of a strong call to action and urgency to act now. Let’s make this year and decade a turning point in healing the environment and creating a zero hunger world.
(Bishow Parajuli is the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Representative and Country Director to India.)