“Feedback Loop”: War and Climate Intensify Crisis

June 13, 2022

Washington Post:

With temperatures spiking to 110 degrees once more, Jeetram Yadav sat in the shade on his farm outside New Delhi and cupped a handful of this season’s disappointing wheat between his calloused palms. The grains were brown and the size of cumin seeds, shriveled by heat.

“I can speak for my village: Everybody has had the same fate,” said Yadav, a 70-year-old who grows wheat and rice on his 2.6-acre plot.

Yadav’s shriveled grains are a small part of the dangerous feedback loop between climate-linked weather disasters and the war in Ukraine that have sent food prices soaring around the world and raising the risk of an epidemic of starvation.

When Russia invaded earlier this year, threatening Ukraine’s exports of grains, crop-rich India was seen as a global buffer, making up for the shortfall. But this spring’s erratic rains and scorching heat killed crops and made it dangerous for farmworkers to harvest, devastating India’s production. In response, India announced in May it would shut down all grain exports, staving off famine in the country but threatening starvation abroad.

It was yet another climate-driven shock to a global food system already in upheaval, and a sign of the hunger crisis that looms as the planet warms.

As of last week, about 750,000 people around the world were facing a food security “catastrophe” — at which “starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels are evident” — according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.N. agency tasked with fighting global hunger.

About 49 million are at risk of falling into famine conditions in the months ahead, according to a Hunger Hotspots report published last week by the FAO and the World Food Program, the United Nations’ food assistance branch.

“These are millions of people who literally don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Brian Lander, deputy director of WFP’s emergencies division.

Climate change is not the only contributing factor, he noted. Supply chain issues and economic instability linked to the coronavirus pandemic have raised costs for fuel, fertilizer, shipping and other agricultural inputs.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has also disrupted exports from two of the world’s biggest wheat producers, increasing the price of the grain that supplies one-fifth of all calories consumed by humans.

With Black Sea shipping blocked and Ukrainian ports heavily mined, millions of tons of grains are trapped in the region. Russia has also seized wheat, bombed silos and blocked many railways, leading U.S. and European officials to accuse Moscow of “weaponizing” the world’s food supply to gain an upper hand in the war.

At talks in Turkey last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated support for a U.N. proposal that would create shipping corridors to ease the ports blockade and allow Russia to export grain and fertilizer. Ukrainian officials expressed skepticism that Russia would not exploit the corridors for an amphibious attack, and the prospect of a deal remains elusive.

But while the Ukraine war and the pandemic might fade with time, experts say, climate change has become a persistent threat to food security, making it more difficult to respond to unforeseen shocks.

Human greenhouse gas emissions have fueled increasingly unpredictable weather events that can wipe out harvests for an entire region, studies show. Waves of punishing heat can kill livestock and make it unsafe for farmworkers to do their jobs. Floods and other natural disasters can devastate the infrastructure needed to transport food to hungry communities.

A February report on climate impacts and adaptation from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that current warming levels of about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) have already cut into yields of staples like wheat, sorghum and rice. If global temperatures rise an additional degree, the chance of simultaneous crop failures in different parts of the world rises to almost 1 in 10 for a given year. By the end of the century, the report projects, as much as 30 percent of current agricultural land could become unsuitable for farming.

UN Environmental Program:

A prolonged and deadly heatwave has hit large swaths of India and Pakistan affecting hundreds of millions of people and sparking food and energy shortages. Experts say the extreme heat is a grim preview of what the climate crisis has in store for a region home to over 1 billion people.

Temperatures in India’s capital and parts of Pakistan have at times reached close to 50°C, killing dozens of people in both countries and upending the daily lives and livelihoods of students, labourers, and farmers.

March was the hottest month on record in India since 1901. The extreme heat also came earlier in the year than normal, covered a huge landmass and persisted much longer than typical heatwaves.

The high temperatures have disproportionately affected farmers with little shelter from the heat and whose crops have wilted in the scorching sun.

“Extreme heat has major repercussions for the agricultural sector,” said Sumalee Khosla, Climate Change Adaptation Finance Expert at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Climate-related heat stress will increase drought and exacerbate water scarcity for irrigation. This impacts farming communities and potentially creates further food security issues in affected countries.”

Food insecurity is already being felt in the region. India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, banned wheat exports to stave off shortages. This decision has reduced wheat supplies and caused a spike in prices around the world.


3 Responses to ““Feedback Loop”: War and Climate Intensify Crisis”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    “Temperatures in India’s capital and parts of Pakistan have at times reached close to 50°C, killing dozens of people in both countries and upending the daily lives and livelihoods of students, labourers, and farmers.”


    I’m going to say most of the Asian estimates of deaths will be much lower than reality, even considering that those populations have been culled by high heat and have developed maximum human heat-shedding capacity.

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