Category Archives: Climate change

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World

By David Braughton

In September, 2015, United Nations members participating in a summit on sustainable development adopted a bold and far-reaching agenda whose goal was nothing less than the promotion of prosperity and the elimination of global poverty and hunger by 2030.

This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. (Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations Sustainability Summit, September 25, 2015)

This year, as last, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, issued a report documenting progress towards the 2030 goal.  This year’s report,  The State of Nutrition and Food Security in the World: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, provides an overview of hunger and malnutrition from two perspectives: the prevalence of undernutrition (a statistical estimate of chronic hunger within a population) and a more subjective accounting of food insecurity using a survey called the Food Insecurity Scale.  The report goes on to examine the impact of global warming and climate change as a leading contributor of increased hunger, particularly in Africa and South America.

In this and future articles, we’ll share findings from the FOA report, examine hunger’s effect on kids and pregnant women, and delve further into how climate change is contributing to the reversal of a ten-year decline in the number of hungry people worldwide. Finally, we will look at some of the countries where BGR is sponsoring projects to see how their people are doing and why these projects are so essential.

Both the FOA’s 2017 and 2018 reports reach the same alarming conclusion: after a decade-long decline in the number and percentage of hungry people around the world, the trend has started to reverse. By 2014 the number of chronically hungry people had declined from 945 million to an estimated 784 million. By 2017, the number had risen to 821 million, an increase of 37 million people! According to the FAO, the two primary causes for this reversal are war and armed conflict, and climate change, which affects both the food supply as well as food access.

The FAO found that hunger and malnutrition are most acute in Africa, where an estimated 20% of the population (256.5 million people) do not have enough to eat. In some areas of sub-Saharan and eastern Africa, the percentage of people who suffer from chronic food deprivation and malnutrition soars to 31%. Countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo represent the impossible plight of children, women and men trying to survive on the equivalent of less than $1.90 a day.

In Asia, although a staggering 515 million people struggle with hunger, the actual percentage of the population that is undernourished has stayed steady at 11.4% over the past three years.  Likewise, the rates of malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean, have remained relatively constant, except for South America where the number of chronically malnourished people rose from 19.3 million in 2014 to 21.4 million in 2017! http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/

To complement statistical estimates of chronic hunger and malnutrition, the FAO adopted a tool used by countries to measure food insecurity and adapted it for use on a global scale. The Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) asks people to report directly on the constraints they face in accessing food, providing a real time picture of hunger around the world.

Unlike more traditional prevalence estimates, the Food Insecurity Scale represents individuals’ actual experience. While the overall numbers between the two measures are roughly the same, the regional differences are striking. In Africa, for example, the number of persons who experience hunger (severe food insecurity) has grown from 260 million to 375 million. In Asia the total number has actually gone down slightly, but in South America, the number of people reporting severe food insecurity  has gone up from 30.8  million to 36.7 million over the past 3 years! http://www.fao.org/3/I9553EN/i9553en.pdf#page=28

For no population group is the problem of acute and chronic hunger more evident than it is for kids. Malnutrition and hunger kill approximately 3.1 million children annually (UNICEF, 2018). Over 160 million children experience stunting (low height for age). According to the World Food Program, 66 million primary school-age children across the developing world attend classes hungry. The alarming increase in childhood and adult obesity and advent of Type II diabetes is another consequence of limited access to healthy and nutritious food, an issue we’ll explore in depth later.

In its 2017 report, FAO examined war, armed conflict, and political instability as major causes of chronic food deprivation. In this 2018 report, the FAO addresses the issue of global warming, climate change, and climate variability as contributing factors. The glint of hope that traces the lines of both reports is the realization that conflict and climate change are primarily man-made problems, and while we may not be able to eliminate either, we can do something to ameliorate them! The twin goals of eliminating poverty and chronic hunger by 2030 remain, although we clearly have a long way to go.

Thank you for your support!

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief. During his professional career he led a number of nonprofit agencies involved with mental health, trauma and child development. 

Top photo courtesy of Helen Keller International; middle photo courtesy of Rachana, Cambodia.

 

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Reducing Your Carbon Footprint through Change of Diet

By Randy Rosenthal

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What’s the best way to reduce your carbon footprint? A new influential study recently published in Science says: Go vegan.

The study is described as “the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.” To come to their conclusions, the authors J. Poore and T. Nemecek looked at data covering nearly 40,000 farms and 16,000 processors, packagers, and retailers. This means they studied the impact of the meat and dairy industry, from the bottom up, rather than the previous top-down approach using national data, which is why this study is so profoundly revealing. In doing so, they determined that without meat and dairy consumption, we could reduce global farmland use by more than 75% and still feed the world.

This conclusion rests on their finding that livestock uses 83% of all available farmland and produces 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions, yet meat and dairy consumption provide only 18% of our calories and 37% of protein. Based on this study, it seems that eliminating meat and dairy consumption from our diets is the best way to reduce our environmental impact. According to Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Does this mean that we should all become vegan? (That is, those of us who aren’t already.) By looking more closely at the research, it appears the answer is yes—that is, if we truly want to help the environment and alleviate global hunger. But how likely is this to happen? After all, there’s a lot of money in the livestock industry, and many powerful people will want to keep things as they are. Aware of this, the authors of the study say that, cumulatively, their findings support a self-moderating approach, in which “producers monitor their own impacts, flexibly meet environment targets by choosing from multiple practices, and communicate their impacts to consumers.” And yet the authors also emphasize that the mitigating impact will ultimately be decided by consumers, not producers. That is, the market will follow changing diets.

Even so, new research may not be enough for people to change their habits and make new lifestyle choices. After all, we’ve known for decades (at least) that eating less meat and more vegetables and fruits makes us healthier, yet today we have more meat consumption and more obesity and health problems than ever. It seems that knowledge alone isn’t enough. That’s why some people commenting on the study have proposed that we tax meat and dairy products, and also require labels that reveal the environmental impact of products. Both of these methods have been successful in curbing tobacco consumption over the past decades.

But is consuming dairy and meat products equivalent to smoking tobacco? Many people might disagree, even those who care about the environment and are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. They might buy an electric car, but they might not be ready to give up cheese.

The good thing is that they don’t have to. That is, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. While the authors do say that consumer avoidance of high-impact products is crucial in making a positive change, the main take-away suggests strategic adjustment, farm by farm, not a knee-jerk reaction to go on a vegan-proselytizing mission. Simply reducing our meat and dairy consumption would be a start in the right direction, and that might be a more realistic approach, at least to begin with.

Also, the authors found a variability in environmental impact based on where and how the meat and dairy is produced, which is crucial for implementing this moderate strategy. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land results in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than cattle raised in a natural pasture. (The emissions come from enteric fermentation, manure, aquaculture ponds, and also from slaughterhouse effluent.) Therefore, the authors conclude, if we replace just the most harmful half of meat and dairy production with plant-based food, we would receive two-thirds of the benefits we’d obtain by getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

Thanks to Poore and Nemecek’s study, we now know that eliminating meat and dairy from our diet will not only make us healthier, it will make the planet healthier. If we use more land to raise vegetables, fruits, crops, and other non-animal-based food products, we can feed more people while causing less damage to our environment. Sounds like a win-win.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard University, where he recently earned a Masters of Theological Studies, with a Buddhist Studies focus. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He edits at bestbookediting.com.

Girls’ Education as a Key to Combating Climate Change

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Project Drawdown describes itself as “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The Project brought together a group of top researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model “the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.” The resulting plan provides “a path forward that can roll back global warming within thirty years.” The solutions to reversing climate change, the website says, “are in place and in action.” The purpose of the Project is “to accelerate the knowledge and growth of what is possible.”

Somewhat surprisingly, in the Project’s ranking of solutions to climate change, in the sixth place is educating girls. This item ranked higher than several of the more familiar solutions often proposed by the experts. It ranks higher than solar farms and rooftop solar (nos. 8 and 10, respectively), regenerative agriculture (no. 11), nuclear power (no. 20), electric vehicles (no. 26), LED lighting (no. 33), and mass transport (no. 37).

In describing the impact of girls’ education in reversing climate change, Project Drawdown says:

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health…. Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Despite these benefits, there are still formidable barriers—economic, cultural and social—preventing some 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. The Drawdown website suggests measures that need to be adopted to change all this: making school affordable; helping girls overcome health barriers; reducing the time and distance to get to school; and making schools more friendly toward girl students.

Almost from its inception, BGR recognized the relevance of educating girls to our mission of combating global hunger and malnutrition. But the discovery of the link between girls’ education and climate change is new to us and reinforces our commitment to this major BGR program policy.

Our current projects that support the education of girls include the following:

  • School Lunches for Marma Girls in Bangladesh: providing healthy food at least once a day for the 121 indigenous girls of Marma ethnicity now studying at Visakha Girls’ School, thereby helping the girls maintain good health so they don’t miss classes and can sustain their concentration (partner: Jamyang Foundation).
  • Food Scholarships for Girls to Stay in School: the GATE (Girls Access To Education) program in Cambodia, which provides educational scholarships to girls pursuing primary and secondary education, and its sequel, CATALYST, which supports girls who have graduated high school and are pursuing higher education at universities and vocational training institutes (partner: Lotus Outreach).
  • A Girls’ Home and Women’s Social Service Center in India: sponsoring the education and training of 30 teenage girls in danger of child marriage or unable to finish high school and university due to poverty; they are being instructed in nursing, social work, and law as well as in job training so they can become agents of change and help others when they return to their villages (partner: Bodhicitta Foundation).
  • Educating Girls in Nicaragua: Sponsoring the education of 112 girls, including six who are attending university, covering tuition and/or registration fees; and the government-mandated school uniform. Additionally, each girl receives bi-annual parasite medicine treatment and a free physical to ensure that they are healthy (partner: North Country Mission of Hope).
  • Technical education for girls in Sri Lanka: Providing access to skills development for approximately 60 girls selected from low-income families to equip them with employable vocational skills in computer technology (partner: CENWOR).

Other projects supported by BGR in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Haiti, and Vietnam educate both boys and girls together–but all include a significant percentage of girl students. While the endeavor to prevent dangerous elevation in carbon emissions will require multiple strategies, as well as strong national determination expressed in effective governmental policies, it is heartening to see the education of girls occupying such a high position among those recommended by Project Drawdown.

Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability

Winning the peaceAn increasingly hungry world is increasingly unstable. A new report issued by the World Food Program USA—Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability—presents an unprecedented view into the dynamics of the relationship between hunger and social instability.[1]

Based on exhaustive interdisciplinary queries of a database of 90,000,000 peer-reviewed journal articles, the report explores the underpinnings and drivers of humanitarian crises involving food insecurity and conflict.

The dominant driver of today’s humanitarian crises is armed conflict. Ten of the World Food Program’s thirteen “largest and most complex emergencies are driven by conflict”, and “responding to war and instability represents 80 percent of all humanitarian spending today … stretching humanitarian organizations beyond their limits.”[2] Ongoing conflict not only drives humanitarian crises, but complicates the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach those in need and to provide assistance.

Violence, conflict, and persecution have resulted in the displacement of 65,000,000 people, more than any other time since World War II.[3] The average length of displacement is seventeen years. In such circumstances, measures of food insecurity are nearly triple that found in other developing country settings.[4]

The current humanitarian situation confronts these stark realities:

  • For the first time in a decade, the number of hungry people in the world is on the rise. In 2016, 815 million people were undernourished, an increase of 38 million people from 2015. Almost 500 million of the world’s hungry live in countries affected by conflict.
  • The number of people who are acutely food-insecure (in need of emergency assistance) rose from 80 million in 2016 to 108 million in 2017—a 35 percent increase in a single year.
  • Over 65 million people are currently displaced because of violence, conflict and persecution—more than any other time since World War II.
  • For the first time in history, the world faces the prospect of four simultaneous famines in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Each of these crises is driven by conflict.
  • Increased migration and the spilling of conflicts beyond borders has led to a proliferation of “fragile states”—states defined by “the absence or breakdown of a social contract between people and their government.”
  • By 2030, between half and two-thirds of the world’s poor are expected to live in states classified as fragile. While a decade ago most fragile states were low-income countries, today almost half are middle-income countries.

At the same time, the nature of conflict and the global system of governance are undergoing transitions that undermine the international community’s ability to address and reduce conflict. The report highlights the rise of non-state actors as powerful participants in armed conflict while also recognizing the significance of activities such as the weaponizing of information to undermine the legitimacy of traditional nation-state institutions.

The report also describes how threats such as food insecurity can drive recruitment for terrorists and rebels, worsening destabilization. (Report, p.7) Military strength cannot adequately address these kinds of threats. Rather, appropriate responses to such threats must address their actual nature. Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades will never be a long-term solution to food insecurity-driven instability. Recognition of this basic reality drives the use of so-called “smart power” in the form of foreign assistance, especially food assistance and agricultural development, to address the underlying causes of this instability. Continue reading

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.
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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

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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