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Global Hunger and Climate Change: The Case of India

Every year around 1/3rd of food gets lost and wasted globally[1]. At the same time, global hunger continues, and is under threat from climate change. As a systemic issue, climate change poses a threat to nearly all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals[2] (SDGs) set by the UN for member states to achieve by 2030. This article focuses on Goal 2: ‘Zero Hunger’. This goal is threefold – end hunger; achieve food security; and promote sustainable agriculture. Let us start out by defining these terms after which we should be able to better understand how hunger and climate change are interdependent. Let us look at how these two issues play out in India and what this means for the future.

Definitions:

The Global Hunger Index[3] (GHI) defines “hunger” as a lack of food or healthy food, resulting in undernourishment and malnutrition. The GHI takes four indicators into account to measure global levels of hunger: undernourishment; child wasting; child stunting; and child mortality. Multiple factors are responsible for global hunger, one of them being: climate change[4]

At face value climate change is natural, however, the rate at which climate change is currently occurring has caused environmental damage, creating precarious living conditions around the world. Air, soil and water are increasingly polluted while rising temperatures are leading to a rise in natural calamities, most prominently cyclones, floods and droughts. This has impacted the ways in which food is produced and distributed[5], creating food insecurity.

Food security is the availability of food for the world’s growing population. Climate change puts pressure on food security[6]. The threat of food insecurity is a humanitarian crisis in the making, with social and political effects, possible outcomes may include forced displacement, political instability and conflict. 

With the current trends in climate change and its effects on agriculture, crop yields are expected to decrease while the global population and demand for food is expected to increase. This is expected to further increase global hunger and food insecurity. This issue of supply and demand is already weighing on the agricultural sector, which has responded by incorporating unsustainable farming methods, such as the use of agro-chemicals. Unsustainable farming methods inevitably speed up the process of climate change. Creating a cycle. This is why the UN highlights sustainability, which they define as: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”[7].


India as an example of how climate change effects hunger:

Let us focus on India. India is a lower-middle income country, with a population of 1.38 billion[8]. On a global scale, India’s GHI ranks at 101 out of 116 countries. India’s hunger levels have decreased in the last two decades, however there is still a significant hunger issue. India’s GHI score in 2021 was 27.5, meaning the hunger levels are ‘serious’. Although this is an improvement compared to 2000 when its score was 38.8 and ‘alarming’, hunger is still an important issue.

How is hunger in India affected by climate change in the region? Different regions are affected differently, and natural disasters have different types of consequences. In Kerala, floods such as those in 2018 have erased nutrients from the soil, leading to ‘low productivity’ in farming. At the same time, draughts are expected to worsen crop yields in North-Western India. The country depends on rainwater, which is already overexploited. If patterns continue, rice and wheat yields are set to decrease, while imports of food and grain are expected to increase[9].

A way forward? Climate equity and cooperation

It is important to note that global hunger and the effects of climate change are not the same throughout the world, there is a significant difference between the Global North and Global South. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have the highest levels of hunger in the world and 47 countries are expected not to achieve zero hunger by 2030[10].


The issues of climate change are shaped by a country’s political stability, income levels, and regional environments. Climate equity is a useful concept to imagine the shares of CO2 and greenhouse gases (GHG) afforded by each country[11]. According to the UNEP’s data from 2018[12]. India is a top GHG emitter, emitting 7.3% of global GHGs. However, in terms of climate equity, India’s population in 2018 was 1.35 billion[13], while its GHG emissions per capita were at only 2.7 tonnes.

Climate change affects agriculture, livelihood and food security. There are numerous proposals on how measures for India to take to counter environmental damage and food insecurity. The World Bank proposes crop diversification especially concerning how crops may react to draughts; conscious and productive use of water; and soil management. Researchers echo these responses with further detail, arguing that further research needs to take place, that these issues are not only regional but global, and therefore require global cooperation.



 


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