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Hunger threatens families as climate change persists

Wednesday May 15 2019

Arupe Edonga, a resident of Lorukia village in

Arupe Edonga, a resident of Lorukia village in Kalapata Ward, Turkana County shows bones of her goats, on March 23, 2019, that died after a prolonged drought. Droughts are not new to East Africa. However, abnormally high temperatures in the region are linked to climate change and proving deadly for livelihoods and livestock. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA 

SIDDHARTH CHATTERJEE
By SIDDHARTH CHATTERJEE
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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 hunger eradication goal, SDG 2, 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, particularly in the developing world, and 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, jeopardising the welfare of seven in ten people who depend on farming for a living.

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“Environment is the foundation of development,” said Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta when he launched the government’s 1.8 billion tree-planting campaign in May 2018.

LOST LIVELIHOODS

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 the effects of climate change will be worse there than in other countries, but because poverty limits their ability to respond.

Nowhere is this truer than in Bangladesh, with its overwhelmingly young population and almost unparalleled vulnerability to the repercussions of a changing climate. A recent report by UNICEF looked at the impact of climate change on families and children in Bangladesh.

“Climate change is deepening the environmental threat faced by families in Bangladesh’s poorest communities, leaving them unable to keep their children properly housed, fed, healthy and educated," said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore, who visited Bangladesh in early March 2019.

VULNERABLE CHILDREN

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.

An FAO study says that almost 57 percent of Kenya’s population lives in poverty, particularly female-headed households who are largely reliant on climate-sensitive economic activities, including rainfed subsistence or smallholder agriculture.

With Kenya’s considerable advances in mobile technology penetration, important information can be delivered to agricultural actors along the value chain, including weather information and availability and prices of inputs.

INVEST IN THE YOUTH

With proper investments and policy, Kenya’s youth can spur the transformation of agriculture from subsistence, hit-or-miss propositions to robust commercial operations that can withstand the effects of climate change.

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.

The author is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. @sidchat1

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