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Climate change warnings and global hunger

In Kiroka, Tanzania, a farmer participating in an FAO climate-smart agriculture project examines his rice crop.
In Kiroka, Tanzania, a farmer participating in an FAO climate-smart agriculture project examines his rice crop.
FAO/Daniel Hayduk

As Dwight Eisenhower once said, "If a danger exists in the world, it is a danger shared by all." The extreme weather we see impacts us all, one way or another.

Last week I attended a presentation at Mount St. Joseph University by Caroljean Willie, who represents the Sisters of Charity at the United Nations. She was sounding the alarm on climate change. She talked about its harmful effects on agriculture.

Global hunger is a crisis we cannot keep up with despite the best efforts of relief agencies. There are 842 million people worldwide who suffer from hunger. Children starve to death every day. The prospect that agriculture will continue to be harmed by climate change is very alarming.

A report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says,

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rising temperatures and increased frequency of extreme events will have direct and negative impacts on crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture productivity. Climate change is a universal and critical challenge for global food security."

Drought alone is harsh enough on a country's food security. When you add drought, for instance, on top of a region in conflict you are looking at a perfect storm for famine. That is what is happening in Syria where there is war and drought.

A key step would be placing more priority on global hunger issues and climate change. President Obama, for example, has yet to appoint a White House coordinator on food security. Aid groups have requested the President to show this leadership and give them a bigger voice. These humanitarian groups have programs that can help farmers cope with weather extremes in an environmentally responsible way.

FAO Deputy Director-General Helena Semedo says, "A shift to climate-smart agriculture will not only help shield farmers from the adverse effects of climate change and offer a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but can also improve farm yields and household incomes, leading to stronger, more resilient communities."

Jen Hardy of Catholic Relief Services told me this morning, "we have a cool project in India that is testing better seed varieties for both drought and flood-resistant crops." Think about how that could impact all of us.

If farmers around the world are able to grow their food, even in the face of harsh weather, that means more stable communities and improved economies. That would reduce the chances of conflict caused by hunger and want. Wide-scale displacement would be reduced. So yes, we need to invest in this kind of food security. It has implications for international peace.

Of course aid groups need funding to implement these initiatives. Funds are so low for emergency relief already, so you can imagine how hard it is to get donations for longer-term projects. This is where leadership is necessary.

With the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe, it could never have succeeded unless our leaders had made it a priority. The same holds true for ending global hunger, which cannot be done without a comprehensive approach that addresses climate change.

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