When thinking of the small country of Haiti located in Central America distressing images are instantly conjured up, associated with not only the devastating 2010 earthquake, but more recently Hurricane Matthew which made landfall on the 4th October 2016. Political instability as well as humanitarian and development challenges have only been exacerbated by these natural disasters, as well as further flooding, landslides and an ongoing episode of prolonged drought related to the El Nino phenomenon. This interaction between environmental and political factors is similarly effecting the food security status of many developing nations including Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.
Back to Haiti for the moment though… Being the only low income country in the Americas as well as being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti unexpectedly has 2.5 million citizens living in extreme poverty, with a poverty rate of 77%. It is therefore no surprise that this extreme level of poverty also relates to food insecurity on both a national and individual scale. Haiti is currently a food deficit country and relies heavily on imported food, with levels sitting at 50%. Therefore, vulnerability to food insecurity is substantially increased. Haiti does not fare any better in the Global Hunger Index either (partially displayed below), ranking 77 out of a possible 79 countries behind only Eritrea and Burundi, which again makes for dismal reading.
The 2012 Global Hunger Index [Source: http://www.ifpri.org/publication/2012-global-hunger-index ]
A staggering 3.8 million Haitians, which equates to 38% of the population, are classed as food insecure and therefore do not have sufficient access to necessary quantities of food. This is no surprise as subsistence farming is an essential livelihood here, yet 80% of farms fail to produce enough to feed their families and households. A main contributor to this insecurity is the rise in food prices which has been occurring since 2010, and is accompanied by the relatively low agricultural productivity. This economic vulnerability has been further fuelled by the devaluation of the Gourde (the currency of Haiti), against both the US Dollar and the Dominican Peso. Similar patterns are present when observing food insecurity and the decreasing value of the Kwacha in Malawi similarly against the US Dollar.
Hurricane Matthew is the most recent natural disaster to plague Haiti. The category 4 hurricane, which struck Central America from the 4th-6th October brought with it damaging winds, substantial rainfall and a violent storm surge. As expected, this extreme weather event caused devastation to the already vulnerable food system in Haiti with widespread damage occurring to crops, as well as houses and infrastructure. Certainly, this event reinforced the food insecurity and vulnerability experienced within the small nation of Haiti, as not only were food stocks destroyed but the ability to respond to the drastic situation was hampered. Alongside the El Nino related drought which is well into its 3rd consecutive year, the agricultural productivity outlook for Haiti is disheartening.
Therefore, the World Food Programme has been operating in a variety of forms, including emergency response, emergency preparedness, school meals, nutrition and cash and food for work. However, whist offering this assistance is useful and will no doubt offer short term food security to millions of people, the long-term food security will remain uncertain unless sustainable methods taking climate change into account are implemented effectively.
Above the present levels of food security displays a dreary global view, yet average global temperatures have been on the rise since 1850, which will serve as no help in this desperate situation. This unrelenting increase in temperatures has occurred because of an accumulation of greenhouse gases within the atmosphere. One of the main contributions to this accumulation is due to the spread of intensive agriculture, which has resulted in the deforestation of vast swathes of many of the planets vital rainforests. As climate change aggravates the risk of hunger and malnutrition, this will surely affect all 4 key areas of food security, including: food availability, food accessibility, food utilization and food system availability. So, the consumerist desire to dramatically increase food production to meet demands has actually resulted in rising food insecurity, which is unquestionably the exact opposite of the desired effect?
With extreme weather events predicted to increase substantially in their frequency, the vulnerability to food insecurity will inevitably increase, which will offer no comfort to the distress of millions in Haiti. Naturally though these effects will not be limited to developing countries such as Haiti, but the impact will be felt strongly in developed countries too, with the impacts of climate change not limited by borders.
Political and social tensions also play an important role in food security. 2016 was a year in which civil conflict unfortunately featured heavily, and has been a significant factor in stressing recent food insecurity globally. For example, Syria and Yemen have 9.4 million and 14.2 million people respectively in need of food assistance because of the civil conflicts currently occurring. Therefore, the amalgamation of both political and environmental factors stresses underlying vulnerabilities including food security, which is evidenced in Haiti. As the vulnerabilities and tensions increase, these political instabilities are only likely to increase too, resulting in a viscous cycle. Where will it end? The projection for food security in 2050 under high emission levels does not soothe these worries.
The Future? Well that surely looks bleak for food security in the worst-case scenario put forward by predictions above. I believe we should all take responsibility for our actions and food consumption habits as they of course have a global impact. Whether this is simply by eating less meat, which is attributed to climatic change, or sourcing our food more ethically or locally. Simple changes, which may require more planning or thought on our behalf may aid future populations food security, or at least slow rates at which food insecurity will spread.