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Global hunger is threatening families because of climate change

by Siddharth Chatterjee | @sidchat1 | United Nations
Wednesday, 15 May 2019 08:30 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A woman harvests potatoes at her farm in Lawley informal settlement in the south of Johannesburg, South Africa, April 9, 2019. Picture taken April 9,2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The wellbeing of families is central to healthy societies, but is threatened by climate change, especially in the poorest parts of the world

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

There is barely a corner of human life that will not be affected by climate change, and some of its impacts are already being felt. Consider this, 821 million people are now hungry and over 150 million children stunted, putting the global hunger eradication goal at risk.

Today, 15 May, is the United Nations International Day of Families and the theme for this year is, ‘Families and Climate Action’.

The wellbeing of families is central to healthy societies, but is threatened by climate change, especially in the poorest parts of the world.

Across the world what we understand by ‘family’ takes many forms, but it remains the fundamental unit of society. It is where from our earliest days we learn to share, to love, to reason, to consider others, to stand up for ourselves and to take responsibility.

But families face challenges on many fronts and – particularly in the developing world – climate change is perhaps the greatest of these as it is exacerbating hunger and food insecurity.

The focus on families and climate has most resonance in Africa, where it is estimated that climate change could reduce yields from rain-fed agriculture by 50 percent by 2020, jeopardizing the welfare of seven in ten people who depend on farming for a living.

When crops are wiped out by flood or drought, families are robbed of livelihoods and food security. Parents who are already financially vulnerable then struggle to meet the costs of housing, feeding and schooling their children, and of paying for medicines when they are sick.

The greatest killers of children – malnutrition, diarrhoeal disease and malaria – will worsen because of climate change. Children living in developing countries face the greatest risks of all, not always because climate change effects will be worse there than in other countries, but because poverty limits their ability to respond.

Increased competition for dwindling natural resources results in political instability, social upheaval, conflicts, forced migration and displacements and once again, children are the main victims. Forced from their homes, many are denied an education, further denting their prospects and threatening social and economic development in some of the poorest areas of the world.

Africa’s biggest threat from climate change will remain the inter-generational downward spiral into deeper poverty that is brought on by decreased farm yields.

Increasing resilience to climate-related shocks in Africa’s agriculture will result in a rise in farm productivity. It will mean women, who make up the largest share of the continent’s small-holder farmers, will have better incomes. Women allocate more of their income to food, health and education for their families, therefore it would also translate into greater gains for children and future generations.

Ending hunger and poverty is the prime mission of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and will demand dramatic shifts in what and how we consume, and above all it will demand cooperation and collaboration on a regional and global scale.

It will not be easy, but for the sake of every family, everywhere, we cannot fail.