Climate Change Brings Malnutrition

In Americas, Global Food Crisis, Scientific Reports

JOHANNESBURG, 25 November 2010 (IRIN) – In another four decades, higher average global temperatures will lead to water stress, causing food production and access to fall, which will drive an additional 24 million children into hunger, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

This forewarning should move the world towards being forearmed, according to the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN), a forum comprising UN agencies, NGOs and academics, which has been running a campaign to influence negotiators ahead of the UN climate talks from 29 November to 10 December, in Cancun, Mexico.

The effort led by the UN SCN began at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, and members of the group have been attending conferences held by various sectors in the run-up to the Cancun meeting.

The need to secure nutritional requirements in the coming decades has yet to make it into the negotiating text, said Cristina Tirado, associate professor at the Centre for Global and Immigrant Health at the University of California.

She has helped draw up a policy brief [ ] aimed at negotiators attending the Cancun talks – also referred to as COP 16, meaning the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In November 2010, the UN SCN team managed to get nutrition mentioned in a report of the Ministerial Conference on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, held in The Hague, capital of The Netherlands.

“The nutrition sector remains largely disconnected from key climate change initiatives, and nutrition only plays a subordinate role in the agriculture and food security discussions on climate change,” said Philippe Crahay of the international NGO, Action contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger), who contributed to writing the UNSCN brief.

Interest in revitalizing issues concerning nutrition has grown since the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that the 2007/08 food price crisis had pushed a billion people into hunger; in 2010 the number still stands at 925 million.

The UNSCN team lobbies to position nutrition according to the needs and interests of delegations at any conference.

Experts in delegations from the agriculture sector are told that when climate-tolerant crops are discussed in the adaptation track of the talks, they need to focus on policies and practices that encourage people to plant and breed hardier indigenous varieties, grow groundnuts and other foods for communities affected by HIV/AIDS, or breed fish in backyard ponds for protein, said Tirado.

“Producing more food does not necessarily lead to better access to food, or to an improved nutritional status of those who need it most,” the brief noted. Policy-makers and agriculturalists should be aware of which crops and livestock would provide people with well-balanced food sources, and grow these.

The brief cited studies in 2006 by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Kenya and the Philippines, where “the adoption of cash crops expanded food supply and doubled the household incomes of small farmers, but showed that children’s energy intake increased only from four to seven percent, and that child undernutrition was little changed.”

Several studies in the developing world have shown a strong relationship between the impact of natural hazards on food availability, and the subsequent effects on economic growth and the health of children.

A recent series of studies [ ] by top researchers from the World Bank and IFPRI showed that most of the children exposed to droughts in Zimbabwe between 1982 and 1984, when they were aged between one and two, suffered malnutrition, which affected their cognitive development and projected much lower lifetime earnings.

The UNSCN brief prepared for the negotiators at COP16 calls for a twin-track approach to ensure that food and nutrition security will help reduce vulnerability, and build resilience to cope with a changing climate.

One of the tracks will fall under the adaptation segment and push for scaling up nutrition-specific interventions and safety nets. The other track calls for a multi-sectoral approach that includes sustainable agriculture, health and social protection schemes, risk reduction and risk management plans, and climate-resilient community-based development.

The brief also suggested that money to fund nutrition interventions, or technological innovations aimed at improving nutrition, should come out of the various climate funds under the UNFCCC.

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