ROME / LONDON, December 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From wildfires in California and locust attacks in Ethiopia to job losses caused by the lockdown pandemics in Italy and Myanmar, climate change and COVID-19 are disrupting food production and starving millions more . 2020.
Now there are fears the situation could worsen next year as the coronavirus crisis and wild weather exacerbate the fragile conditions associated with conflict and poverty in many parts of the world, aid officials told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Even before COVID-19 hit, 135 million people were marching toward the threshold of starvation. This could double to 270 million in a few months, “said David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), in emailed comments.
In April, Beasley, whose organization in Rome was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2020, told the UN Security Council that the world was facing a “hunger pandemic” and “various famines in biblical proportions”.
“That warning is supported by stronger evidence today,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, noting that Burkina Faso, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen are facing famine, and the full impact of COVID-19 is yet to be felt in many places. .
At the same time, the coronavirus crisis has shown how faster international action and better cooperation in areas such as science and technology can help tackle the problem, he added.
Farmers and the urban poor have borne the brunt of the pandemic so far, meaning inequality between and within countries could deepen by 2021, said Ismahane Elouafi, chief scientist at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Cut off from markets and with falling customer demand, farmers struggle to sell their produce while informal workers in urban areas, who live hand-to-mouth, find themselves unemployed because of the lockdowns, he said.
As a result, millions of people – from Texas and Geneva to Bangkok and Accra – were forced to rely on food aid for the first time.
Meanwhile, more than 50 million people in East and Central Africa are in need of emergency food aid – and that number will increase as the region prepares for severe drought related to the La Nina climate pattern, as well as more locust swarms, Oxfam said.
With 2020 set to be one of the hottest years on record, African farmers have seen a spike in harsh climatic conditions as well as plant-destroying pests, said Agnes Kalibata, UN special envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit.
“The double blow due to extreme weather and COVID-19 has greatly relieved the weakness of our global food system,” said Kalibata, former Rwandan agriculture minister.
‘HARBINGER’ CLIMATE CRISIS
Two UN reports recently warned that the coronavirus pandemic could lead to an extreme spike in poverty.
One in 33 people will need humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs such as food and water by 2021, up 40% from this year, said one.
Others say a billion people could fall into poverty by 2030.
COVID-19 is a “harbinger” of what the climate crisis will bring, said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh.
“(The virus) hits us in a matter of days and months. Hopefully, this will end in a year or two, if all goes well with the vaccine – but the climate change problem will last much longer, much longer, “he said.
“One of the major impacts will likely occur on food production, on all continents of the world, on agriculture, fisheries, on livestock,” he added.
Climate action is often focused on reducing planet-warming emissions from energy and transportation, but changing food systems is also essential to keeping global warming to a manageable level, says a recent study led by the University of Oxford.
Even if fossil fuel emissions are eliminated immediately, food production could still push temperatures beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, the lowest target in the Paris climate pact, he warned.
But transforming a highly complex and increasingly global food system network is a major challenge, not least because there is no substitute for food, says lead author Michael Clark.
Making food production more sustainable will require focusing on how it is grown, what is consumed and ways to reduce loss and waste, he said.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHANGE
The lockdown triggered by the pandemic has prompted a shift in attitudes in rich countries towards food waste and meat consumption, both of which fuel greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, there is growing recognition among experts that the narrow focus on crop productivity is at the expense of the environment, equity and nutrition, said James Lomax, a food systems expert at the United Nations Environment Program.
Many in the food industry are starting to understand this too, even before COVID-19 disrupts supply chains, eating away at income and highlighting the links between agriculture, animal products and zoonotic diseases, he said.
This shift, together with a high-level summit scheduled for next year on the interconnected issues of food, health, nature and climate, offers an opportunity to radically change the way food is produced and consumed, experts say.
“We have a chance to fix it,” as thoughts gathered around the meeting, said Elouafi of FAO.
UN envoy Kalibata hopes the food systems summit will produce ambitious goals and clarity on what countries, communities and businesses should do differently over the next decade, as well as more financing to help achieve those goals.
Solutions already exist to make food systems sustainable and environmentally friendly, such as seaweed-based animal feed to reduce methane emissions and a plant-based diet, said Jessica Fanzo, professor of global food policy and ethics at Johns Hopkins University.
But political will is needed to push them to the forefront, he added. With regard to climate change, he hopes a youth movement will emerge around food to advocate for more ambitious change.
Most people participate in the world food system two or three times a day when they eat, he said.
“It has to be something that society really appreciates, (but) often it isn’t,” he added. (Reported by Thin Lei Win @thinink and Cormac O’Brien, Edited by Megan Rowling. Please pay tribute to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Thomson Reuters charity, covering the lives of people around the world who struggle to live free or fair. news.trust.org)