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Malnutrition increases on the horizon in south Asia

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 29 May 2012 12:39 GMT
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By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio

Malnutrition is worsening in developing countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and India because of the impacts of climate change - particularly on water resources, a key input for producing food for more than a billion people in the region.

Climate change and rising temperatures have now badly disturbed food production patterns and have deepened food insecurity.  Malnutrition is particularly increasing in the countries where large populations are dependent on rain-fed subsistence farming.

Climate change, growing use of food crops as a source of fuel and soaring food prices are three major challenges that threaten efforts to overcome food insecurity and malnutrition according to ‘Impact of Climate Change and Bioenergy on Nutrition’ a joint report by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

According to the report, food security has four dimensions: food availability, access to food, stability of supply and access, and the safety and health of food.

Besides climate change and rising demand for bioenergy, other factors can hamper efforts to reduce malnutrition, including widespread land degradation and scarcity of fresh water resources, and structural shifts in the food and agricultural systems.

CUT CLIMATE CHANGE TO CUT HUNGER

That means some not-very-obvious ways of cutting malnutrition could have a big effect. That’s things like cutting emissions of greenhouse gases through improved transport, adopting better food producing techniques and making the choice to use greener energy.

Global population is expected to gallop up by 37 percent by 2050, to 9.2 billion. Global economic and food experts at the World Bank and FAO predict that economic growth of 6 percent per year in developing countries during the next few years, combined with rapid urbanization, will drive demand for food to new heights just as food production contracts.

They warn of substantial risks to food production from the spread of plant pests, animal diseases and invasive species across international borders – something climate change could worsen.

Subsistence farmers in developing countries, dependent on agriculture, will be particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Other groups similarly at risk of worsening food security include pastoralists, indigenous people, coastal communities and artisanal fishermen.

Changing weather patterns linked to climate change will cause more intense and longer droughts, and the frequency of heavy precipitation events is increasing over most of the world’s land areas. There is likelihood that heat waves and future tropical cyclones will become more intense.

Droughts and water scarcity can reduce the diversity of diets and bring down overall food consumption, worsening malnutrition. Flooding, sea level rise and worsening storm surges could expose more people to diarrhoea and other diseases, lowering their capacity to use food efficiently.

Adapting to the coming pressures will be crucial. Adaptation actions could include extension or intensification of existing risk management or simply efforts to produce more food.

Just as important will be making infrastructure climate change-resilient and building capacity to adapt broadly into communities and institutions.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are development reporters based in Karachi, Pakistan.

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