Developing strategies to end hunger

The Sandy Effect is Global

It’s been three months since super storm Sandy struck. Sandy wreaked havoc, cutting a destructive path through the Caribbean before making landfall in the United States. Sandy directly hit Jamaica and Cuba.  Haiti is, of course, still recovering from a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that damaged 200,000 buildings in 60 seconds and killed well over 200,000 people in January 2010. During Sandy, Haiti received more than 20 inches of rain, which flooded much of the country's south, claimed 52 lives, and displaced more than 18,000 families. In the United States, Sandy caused extensive destruction -- lost lives, major flooding, travel disruption, structural damage, and power outages. It is projected that Sandy caused about $30 billion in damage and claimed more than 100 lives in the United States alone. 

Climate change -- the long-term shifts in temperature now taking place, and the results of those shifts -- is expected to increase the frequency of shocks such as flooding and drought. The threat associated with climate change is both real and global. This infographic shows some of the evidence.

Ifg_gfpr_map_disasterSource: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

The 2012 U.S drought, which covered almost 62 percent of the land area of the 48 contiguous states, is said to be second in size only to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.  A report from a unit of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that 2012 was the warmest year ever documented in records that go back to 1895 for the 48 states. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. corn production fell 13 percent (to 272.4 million metric tons) in 2012-2013, while the soybean harvest fell 4 percent (to 80.9 million tons). As of January 1 of this year, parts of Iowa -- a state that produces almost twice as much corn as Argentina and almost as many soybeans as China-- was still in extreme drought.

Around the world, climate change is damaging food and water security in significant and highly unpredictable ways. There are strong indications that developing countries will continue to bear the brunt of the consequences -- largely because they have high poverty rates and weak capacity to adapt to the changes.  In sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture — the mainstay of rural livelihoods — is already under threat because the adaptive capacity of poor rural smallholders is extremely low. The agriculture sector is, of course, particularly vulnerable to climate change. The success of farming has always depended heavily on weather conditions, and African farming is still primarily reliant on rainfall -- not irrigation. 

All of these factors and more make climate change an urgent problem. Responding effectively demands strong and organized political leadership, infrastructure, and resources at all levels -- local, regional, national, and international. Investments in strengthening local capacity to create and implement informed, effective adaptation measures will help poor communities build the  resilience they need to cope with climate shocks. It's difficult to imagine any of this happening, however, as long as local capacity remains limited and communities are perpetually in crisis mode.

One sign of hope is President Obama's promise, in the inauguration address for his second term, to “respond to the threat of climate change” lest we “betray our children and grandchildren.” This year’s State of the Union address, to take place February 12, would be a great platform to turn this ambition into action. Faustine Wabwire is senior foreign assistance policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute.


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