Category Archives: Climate change

The World Reverses Progress on Global Hunger

By Charles W. Elliott

The newest U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”) Annual Report on food security sends a “clear warning signal” of a troubling trend that reverses a long period of progress combating world hunger.

After A Prolonged Decline, World Hunger and Food Insecurity Worsen

FAO 2017 Food Security Report Cover

The 132-page data-rich report, The State of Food Security And Nutrition In The World 2017: Building Resilience For Peace And Food Security [1] notes that for the first time in many years the number of chronically malnourished people across the globe—as well as those suffering from acute hunger—has increased from the prior year, reversing a prolonged historic decline in world hunger. The number of undernourished people jumped from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. Every continent except Europe and North America has suffered an increase in prevalence of malnutrition. The report identifies a variety of causes for this reversal and highlights the interrelationships between global hunger, armed conflict, and climate change.

Emerging from the data is a stark picture of 44,000,000 more people now suffering from severe food insecurity than there were just two years ago. In fact, nearly one in ten people around the world, about 689 million people, now suffers from severe food insecurity. (see Report, Table 2). The people of Africa suffer the highest levels of severe food insecurity—27.4 percent of the population, four times that of any other continent.

In 2016, areas particularly hard hit by worsening food security were zones of armed conflict, especially where droughts or floods exacerbated those impacts. But the downward trend was not limited to conflict zones. Economic downturns have diminished food availability through reduced import capacity, impaired food access, and reduced ability of governments to protect poor households against rising domestic food prices. This has occurred particularly in countries that saw reduced revenue from oil and other primary commodity exports, which are traditionally used to finance food imports and subsidies and social safety nets.

Part 2 of the report analyzes in depth the relationship between conflicts and hunger. It reminds us that armed conflicts and diminished food resources create damaging self-reinforcing cycles. Armed conflict brings social disruptions, population displacement, and infrastructure destruction in its wake, damaging food production and distribution, and exacerbating food insecurity. As the report notes, “[f]ood insecurity itself can [then] become a trigger for conflict.” It urges governments and civil society to engage anew to reduce global hunger not just for its own sake, but also because “improved food security and more-resilient rural livelihoods can prevent conflict and contribute to lasting peace” (Report, p. 4).

The report addresses in detail the twin problems of childhood stunting (shortened height) and wasting (low weight for height). Although “the rising trend in undernourishment has not yet been reflected in increases in stunting,” 155 million children under the age of five — one in four children—still suffer from stunted growth. Those children incur higher risks of illness, poor cognitive skills and impaired learning ability. As a result, they suffer reduced earning potential and social skills. If stunting is widespread, it “also drags down the economic development of entire communities and nations” (Report, p. 14). Childhood wasting, causing increased risks of childhood illness and death, continues to be a serious problem. In 2016, childhood wasting affected one in twelve of all children under five years of age, a total of 52 million children. More than half of them live in southern Asia.

Preventive measures such as ensuring adequate nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, encouragement of exclusive breastfeeding for children six months and younger, and access to adequate health care can address these conditions. In fact, breastfeeding “is considered to be the preventive intervention with the single largest impact on child survival” (Report, p. 21). Improving breastfeeding rates could prevent 820,000 child deaths each year.

Malnutrition is not only the result of inadequate nutrition, that is, diets that are low in calories, it can also result from high consumption of low-cost, high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods that can cause obesity and disease. Thus, “multiple forms of malnutrition coexist, with countries experiencing simultaneously high rates of child undernutrition, anaemia among women, and adult obesity. Childhood overweight and obesity are increasing in most regions, and in all regions for adults. In 2016, 41 million children under five years of age were overweight” (Report, p. ii).

Food insecurity is just one of the factors that cause malnutrition. In addressing malnutrition, we must also address the education of women and girls; the commitment of resources for maternal, infant and young child nutrition; the provision of clean water, basic sanitation, and quality health services; improved food environments; and cultural factors.

The Nexus Between Armed Conflict and Food Insecurity.

 This year’s report devotes its entire part 2 to “Conflict, Food Security And Nutrition: The Imperative of Sustainable Peace.” Here it examines how “armed conflict affects food security and nutrition, and how deteriorations in food security conditions can exacerbate conflict” (Report, p. 30). The number, complexity, and duration of conflicts around the world have sharply increased in the past ten years.

Violent conflicts are currently at an all-time high. We cannot adequately address hunger and food insecurity without addressing the causes of conflict and their cascading effects.

Armed conflict causes an array of interrelated impacts. These can include, for example, economic recession, inflation, employment disruption, forced population movements, blockades of trade routes, damages to transportation infrastructure, the destruction of food stocks, livestock, and other productive assets, disruptions to food systems and markets, reduced access to water and cooking fuel and, of course, injuries and deaths. All of these effects damage food security and can threaten entire markets.

A recent example is the conflict in Yemen, which is “creating a country-wide crisis that is driving unprecedented levels of food insecurity and undernutrition, collapsing its social protection system, threatening a breakdown of the banking, health care, and other institutional infrastructure,” and “tipping large parts of the country into a destructive downward spiral of extreme food insecurity and increasing poverty” (Report, p. 45). Yemen’s GDP dropped by 34.6 percent in a single year, between 2014 and 2015.

This deterioration of security and increases in conflicts have stalled global progress in reducing hunger and undernutrition. In 2016, more than two billion people were living in countries affected by conflict, violence, and fragility. The vast majority of the chronically food insecure and malnourished live in such places: an estimated 489 million of 815 million undernourished people and an estimated 122 million of 155 million stunted children.

FAO currently classifies 19 countries with a protracted crisis. All 19 countries are also affected by conflict and violence, which are typically worsened by climate related shocks such as prolonged droughts. This combination of events has led to the displacement of millions of people, causing and protracting food insecurity in host communities. [2]

Addressing hunger and food insecurity in such environments requires a new “conflict-sensitive approach that aligns actions for immediate humanitarian assistance, long-term development and sustaining peace” (Report, at ii).

Food insecurity is not only the consequence of conflict; it can also be the cause. This risk is particularly high where deep inequality and weak institutions exist. Sudden spikes in food prices increase risks of political unrest and conflict, as exemplified in 2007–2008 when food riots broke out in more than 40 countries (Report, p. 52).

The report also notes the relationship between climate change, conflict and food insecurity. Climate-change driven events, such as long periods of drought, increase the risk of conflict and hunger, as they exacerbate competition for diminished food supplies, arable land, and water.

Conversely, when the global community addresses food security, reduces the potential for conflict, and strengthens adaptability and resilience in the face of climate change and natural disaster, it dampens the negative mutually reinforcing impacts of conflict and hunger.

The Report (pp. 60-73) therefore recommends that governments and civil society adopt and implement policies to:

— address the impacts to agriculture and food systems caused by conflict and civil insecurity;

— confront the root causes of competition over natural resources and mitigate their impact on food systems and the wider economy;

— prioritize investments to improve the resilience of the agricultural sector;

— provide effective livelihood and social supports to populations displaced by conflict;

— strengthen social protection systems, as households facing conflicts may engage in “increasingly destructive and irreversible coping strategies that threaten future livelihoods, food security and nutrition.”

The U.N. General Assembly had declared the period 2016–2025 as the “United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition.” The global challenge after 2017 is to halt the downward trend by recognizing and directly addressing the interlocking triad of food insecurity, conflict, and climate change. The Report makes clear that attaining the U.N.’s ambitious Sustainable Development Goals of ending hunger and preventing all forms of malnutrition by 2030 will demand an entirely new and focused commitment of resources and an end to “business as usual.”

Charles W. Elliott is an attorney with 30 years of experience in public interest litigation on behalf of municipal governments, environmental organizations, and victims of environmental pollution. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of Buddhist Global Relief.


[1] FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2017, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017: Building resilience for peace and food security, Rome, FAO. The full report is available at the FAO website at: http://www.fao.org/3/a-I7787e.pdf

[2] For example, the civil war in Syria has forced more than 6 million people to flee their homes to other locations within the country and another 5 million to nearby countries. This amounts to a displacement of more than 60% of the population. As a result of this conflict, agriculture production is at a record low in Syria, “with about half the population unable to meet their daily food needs” (Report, p. 44).

 

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Moral Vision as the Foundation for Global Well-Being

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Buddhist contingent at the People’s Climate March in New York City, September 2014

All the classical spiritual traditions of humankind are confronted by the simple but undeniable fact that we are living at a critical time when the future of human life on earth is in serious jeopardy. Dark clouds have gathered on the horizon, and we can see them in every direction. One dark cloud is the ever-widening inequality in wealth between the rich and the poor—the inequality that is driven by a neoliberal economic system that funnels more and more of the world’s wealth into the hands of a small powerful elite, who manipulate governments and international law for their own advantage. Another dark cloud is the volatile financial system, which treats the world’s vital resources such as food, water, and land as objects of financial speculation, leaving millions of people around the world hungry, landless, and homeless, burdened with oppressive debt. Still another is the persistence of wars: regional wars that are seemingly interminable and generate new terrorist groups almost as soon as the older ones bite the dust; the specter of all-out nuclear war just the press of a button away. And still another cloud takes the form of the all-seeing surveillance state, which uses the new electronic technologies to snoop into every aspect of our private lives.

Perhaps the darkest cloud of all is climate change, which has been transforming the natural environment in ways that imperil the future of human civilization. The accelerating changes to the planet’s climate, and the rapid depletion of our natural resources such as water, soil, and food, call not only for pragmatic remedies but also for a robust moral response. Our moral responsibility now extends beyond the narrow confines of our national borders to people throughout the world. In every continent people are already being bludgeoned by the impact of a warmer, stranger, more violent planet. Indeed, those who face the harshest consequences of climate change are the people least responsible for it: the simple farmers and villagers of of southern Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. The impacts of climate disruption occurring now extend down the line to future generations, who will have to inherit the legacy of planetary devastation that we leave behind. Our responsibility also extends to non-human beings, to the countless other species that face the loss of their natural habitats and the threat of imminent extinction.
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A Decision Cruel and Callous

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Embed from Getty Images

Much has been written over the last several days about the political and economic repercussions of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out from the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s been pointed out that the decision will diminish our standing in the world and cast us in the role of a rogue state, a pariah among nations. Our economy will languish, overtaken by other countries that make the leap to full reliance on clean energy. The mantle of global leadership will pass to Europe and China, and we’ll find ourselves increasingly isolated on the international stage. To be an American abroad will become a mark of shame.

The decision to leave the Paris Accord, however, should be seen not only as an act of foolishness, arrogance, and delusional thinking, but also as an appalling expression of cruelty. The decision is cruel because it reveals a glaring deficit of compassion—a callous lack of concern for the billions of people around the world who are endangered by a more hostile climate. Sadly, it is those nations and peoples with the lightest carbon footprint that are being hit the hardest. Even before freak weather events began to multiply and inflict horrendous harm, smallholder farmers and day laborers in the developing world faced an uphill struggle just to put food on the table and get enough clean water to meet their daily needs. Now, assailed by ever more frequent and destructive climate disruptions, these same people find their very lives suspended over an abyss. Continue reading

Buddhists Roll On Together to the People’s Climate March

Stepping off the Buddhist retreat bus in D.C. on Saturday, two things were apparent: the 2017 People’s Climate March was going to be huge, and it was going to be hot. The record-breaking 92-degree heat seemed to enhance the energy of the staggering crowds that had convened to march from the foot of the Capitol Building to surround the White House.

I’d chosen to march with the Buddhist contingent as part of the Faith Bloc, situated between the Science bloc and Fossil Fuel resistance groups that gathered to surge down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was Trump’s 100th day in office, and over 200 Buddhists from around the world had shown up to make their voices heard with another 200,000+ people. The common message was clear: we know the climate is changing, and we want to address this.
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Changing Directions Before It’s Too Late

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

 

Buddhists marching at the People’s Climate March of Sept. 21, 2014

Suppose I was a bus driver driving a busload of people along an unfamiliar route and at a certain point my GPS device showed me that I was heading toward a precipice. I would not assume that the device is mistaken or argue that the accuracy of such devices is a matter of debate. As I got close to the edge of the abyss, I would not jiggle the steering wheel, much less step on the gas pedal. Rather, I would turn away and head in a different direction.

Yet, expand this picture to a global scale, and it shows us exactly what we’re doing with our climate. The climate crisis is probably the gravest danger that humanity has ever faced, the precipice toward which we are heading, yet those in the driver’s seat are doing just what the reckless bus driver does. They’re insisting that the great majority of climate scientists are mistaken; they’re claiming there is still a debate about the causes of climate change; they’re attacking investigators who seek to hold offenders accountable; and they’re stepping on the gas pedal with policies that will push carbon emissions to perilous heights. If they continue to have their way, they’ll drive the bus of humankind over the edge to a fate we can hardly envisage.

As a Buddhist monk and scholar, I look at the climate crisis through the lens of the Buddha’s teaching, which shows that our leaders’ dismissive attitude toward the crisis stems from two deeply entrenched mental dispositions, ignorance and craving. Ignorance is the blatant, willful, and even spiteful rejection of reality, the denial of unpalatable truths that threaten our sense of our own invulnerability. Craving is the voracious grasping after ever more wealth, status, and power, a thirst that can never be satisfied. When the two reinforce each other, what we get is a stubborn refusal to see that wealth and power, no matter how exorbitant, will be worthless on a dying planet. Continue reading

Worldviews Clash at Standing Rock

 Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The standoff at Standing Rock offers a choice between two worldviews: one that can lead to a new economy of shared prosperity and one that will hasten the devastation of the planet.

Embed from Getty Images

 

The struggle to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline marks not only a difference in economic policies but a contest between two radically different orientations to life. The struggle, which pits Native Americans and their allies against a company that constructs oil pipelines, has a profound significance that extends far beyond the plains of Standing Rock. The contest is both ethical and existential, and how it is resolved may well determine the future of human life, whether for harm or for good, on this beautiful but fragile planet. Continue reading

BGR Provides Emergency Aid to Haiti After Hurricane Matthew Hits Hard

BGR Staff

(Photo : NASA/Public Domain) Hurricane Matthew as captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite hours after the storm hit the southwestern region of Haiti.

BGR began its relationship with Haiti in 2010, when we launched a partnership with the US-based What If Foundation to provide meals to hungry children in the Tiplaz Kazo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince–children who were left mostly homeless by the powerful earthquake of 2010. Since then our relationship with the island-nation has grown ever closer, and we have formed partnerships with several other organizations working in the island, including Oxfam America, the Trees That Feed Foundation, and the Arts Creation Foundation in Jacmel. This past April, our vice-chair and treasurer, David Braughton, visited the country to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Father Jeri School established by the What If Foundation to provide free education to children who would otherwise never have had the chance to attend school.

Just last week, Haiti was slammed hard by Hurricane Matthew, which swept over the island, leaving in its trail widespread devastation, shortages of food and fresh water, power failures, and a death toll of over a thousand. BGR responded immediately to the disaster. Meeting by email, we decided to provide emergency aid to three organizations. We made a $5,000 donation to the What If Foundation for food assistance through its partner on the ground, Na Rive, in Port-au-Prince; a $5,000 donation to CARE for emergency relief to the Jeremie and Southwest regions of the island, which were hit especially hard; and a donation of $3,000 to BGR partner, Trees That Feed, to assist with its feeding program and general recovery.

Though BGR is not an emergency aid organization but sponsors long-term development projects, we will closely monitor recovery efforts in the country after the hurricane to see how we can help most effectively in ways that correspond to our mission of combating hunger and malnutrition.