News & Media Opinion Pieces Global warming to worsen malnutrition: report

Global warming to worsen malnutrition: report

Courtesy FAO and World Science staff, World Science

Expressing their “deepest concern,” three U.N. agencies are warning that climate change will increase global hunger and malnutrition unless immediate action is taken.

The alarm was sounded as scientists warned that global warming may have passed a tipping point, with the Arctic Ocean melting much faster than projected. “The Arctic is screaming,” Mark Serreze of the U.S. government’s snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colorado, told news agencies this week; NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally added that the Arctic might be nearly icefree in five years.

The three Rome-based agencies—the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development raised the hunger alert at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia. Speaking on behalf of the three, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s head said extreme weather is already affecting “food security.”

“If we do not act now, climate change will increase the number of hungry people in the world,” said director general Jacques Diouf. “Climate change is a major challenge to world food security.” The organization has estimated that 854 million people world­wide suffer from hunger and malnutrition, including 820 million in developing countries.

“Vulnerable people and food systems will be particularly affected,” Diouf said. “People who are already vulnerable and food insecure are likely to be­come even more so.”

Three in four of the world’s billion poorest live in rural areas of developing countries and face immediate risks from increased crop failures and loss of livestock, the organization estimates. It also reports that more than 1.5 billion forest-dependent people, also among the poorest, are highly vulnerable, as are 200 million people dependent on fisheries.

“It is paramount that we address food security concerns when discussing the challenges of climate change,” Diouf declared, announcing that the organization is organizing a high-level conference to address the issues. The HighLevel Conference on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy is to be held in Rome from 3-5 June 2008.

While efforts must be redoubled to ensure that a growing world population has access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, he said, specific actions to be taken included: early warning systems; adaptation strategies; disaster risk reduction activities; and hunger safety initiatives.

Sustainable forest management also offer opportunities for immediate mitigation and adaptaion, Diouf said. Deforestation is responsible for some 17 per­cent of heat-trapping green house gas emissions, so improved forest management could provide “comprehensive, rapid and effective action.” Payments for environmental services and for carbon conservation and sequestration could be made to farmers living in fragile ecosystems, Diouf suggested.

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