Hunger Hotspots: Climate Change Drives Hunger in Madagascar and Afghanistan

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The global hunger crisis that steadily worsened during 2022 continues in 2023. Less than a decade ago, in 2014, 81 million people needed lifesaving humanitarian assistance because of acute hunger. In 2023, nearly 340 million people do.

One major reason for the surge in hunger is climate change. Its impacts range from drought, floods, and more severe and frequent storms such as hurricanes, to new, more destructive insect swarms and depleted soil that leads to smaller harvests of less nutritious crops. Therefore, Bread for the World continues to emphasize that effective climate action is essential to ending hunger.

The United States is a leading producer of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, while the countries where people are suffering most from its impacts—like Madagascar and Afghanistan—have far lower emissions levels and few resources that will enable them to adapt. Bread’s climate change policy principles call for the U.S. government to contribute to the efforts of vulnerable countries to enable their people to become more resilient in the face of ongoing climate impacts.

Madagascar’s hunger emergency  puts it on the most recent list of 20 hunger hotspots  by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). More than 2 million people are expected to need lifesaving humanitarian assistance such as food and clean water in 2023. The better news is that there has been some improvement since the first half of 2022, when tens of thousands of people in the hardest-hit areas were living in famine conditions. Humanitarian workers were able to reach the communities in greatest need in time to save many lives.

The leading causes of the hunger crisis are consecutive cycles of drought, cyclones, and other climate impacts, all of which reduce the amount of food farmers are able to grow. The other set of factors that drives acute hunger consists of high and rapidly rising food prices, caused both by lower food production and external shocks such as the global COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Perhaps what is most striking about Madagascar’s deadly hunger emergency is that the country and those who live there have very limited options for response. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. It contributes very little to global greenhouse gas emissions, and it has few extra resources to weather the economic fallout of a global pandemic of infectious disease or to strengthen its social safety net when food prices soar. Alongside the best efforts of government officials, local community leaders, and every resident who is able to contribute, Madagascar needs the support of the global community.  

The people of Afghanistan also face one of the world’s most severe hunger emergencies, according to the latest update by humanitarian agencies. Almost the entire population—97 percent of all households—struggled to meet their basic needs, including food and medical care, as of August 2022. Segments of the population are projected to face starvation in the coming months. Humanitarian officials have requested $4.4 billion to meet immediate needs.

The hunger crisis in Afghanistan has several causes that are hard to miss. They include destruction from the armed conflicts that have raged for much of the past 50 years, the impact of the withdrawal of a large portion of development assistance following the seizure of power by an extremist group, and high inflation.

Climate change causes natural disasters to be more frequent and more severe, and Afghanistan is experiencing this. One example is a June 2022 earthquake that put more than 300,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance. Another is a spike in unseasonal flash floods in several provinces in the summer of 2022. A more pervasive, slower-onset impact is continuing drought, described as “unprecedented in the last 20 years.”  Drought has damaged or destroyed crops as well as the pasture required for livestock to graze.

Whether climate change impacts are the leading cause of near-famine conditions or one among several major contributing factors, Bread will continue to press for climate solutions and additional resources to enable low-income countries to adapt to conditions that are here to stay.

Michele Learner is managing editor, Policy & Research Institute, at Bread for the World.

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