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Climate change threatens to hike hunger in the Pacific - report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 13 Sep 2011 13:59 GMT
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BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Climate change threatens to increase hunger and malnutrition among millions of poor people in the 14 small and geographically remote island nations of the Pacific unless action is taken, a new report by the Asian Development Bank said.

Food Security and Climate Change in the Pacific: Rethinking the Options urged Pacific nations, many of which are in fragile and conflict-affected situations and suffering from slow economic growth rates, to manage natural resources better and increase local food production, particularly of climate-resistant crops such as taro, yam, and cassava.

"Rising temperatures and rising tides due to climate change could reduce food supply in the Pacific,” Mahfuzuddin Ahmed, a senior economist in the Asian Development Bank’s Pacific Department who wrote the report, said in a statement.

“With over 10 million people in developing countries in the region, this is a threat that we cannot ignore," he added.

The region is already seeing a decline in agricultural production per capita and productivity has stagnated, the report said, partly due to an increase in migration from rural to urban areas and also because of fragile ecosystems and a limited natural resource base.

The Pacific is also considered one of the most vulnerable to impacts of climate change such as natural disasters and sea level rises, which are expected to reduce the agricultural output further.  

For example, experts said a sea level rise of one metre in Kiribati and the Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands would make, respectively, 12.5 percent and 80 percent of total land vulnerable to inundation and resulting loss of agricultural land.

More than a third of the people in the region already live below the national poverty line, the ADB said.

The Pacific is already experiencing “immediate and dire consequences” of climate change such as worsening coastal erosion, floods, droughts, storm surges and saltwater intrusion, the report said, all of which has an impact on food production and security.

RISKY COMBINATION

Climate change will also lower livestock and poultry production due to “excess heat and drought in some places and oversaturation of soil and physical damage from increased rainfall in others,” the report said.

The projected impacts from climate change in these nations are so large it would “discourage future investments in large-scale and/or intensive agriculture, which are at present already difficult due to land tenure issues,” it added.

Combine these impacts with effects from man-made activities such as urbanisation, deforestation, destructive fishing practices and poor agricultural land use, and food shortages and malnutrition will worsen, the report warned.

Research already shows residents of the Pacific countries suffer from under-nutrition, worsened in part by increased trade which has turned many households away from being self-sufficient and made them overly reliant on cheaper and more convenient but less nutritious imported foods, the report said.

In addition to increasing local food production, the report said national development plans should focus on broader efforts to deal with food security concerns and climate change.

It also urged international donors to help build or climate-proof infrastructure such as roads, ports and coastal development to help stave off widespread hunger due to climate pressures.

According to the report, development aid aimed at agriculture decreased by 58 percent in real terms between 1980 and 2005, a sign external assistance has also been weak.

“Policies that improve the efficient use of resources (e.g., land, water, and ecosystems) should be promoted to facilitate agricultural growth and enhance food production,” the report urged.

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