Monday, November 9, 2015

Climate Change and Poverty

"There has never been a more important time to address rural poverty in developing countries. It looks likely that global food security and climate change will be among the key issues of the 21st century. As agricultural producers and custodians of a large share of the world's natural resources, poor rural people have key roles to play, contributing not only to global food security and economic growth, but also to climate change mitigation efforts." – Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development
On November 8 2015, The World Bank has released a new report titled, "Shock Waves - Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty", and indeed it sends 'shock waves'. But can it be said that this is totally new news? NO! The impact of climate change on poverty across the globe is something that is very well documented.

The World Bank report, "Shock Waves - Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty" shows that climate change is an acute threat to poorer people across the world. And of course the usual places get a mention, – Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – the poorest regions of the world. The poorest regions of the world will be hit the hardest. The new report states that climate change has the power to push more than 100 million people back into poverty over the next fifteen years, i.e., by 2030! This is what hits me hard, shakes me badly and indeed send the 'shock waves' through my body.

The world has been fighting with poverty and climate change. It is arguably the two biggest issues confronting the world now. How do we end poverty or reduce it significantly and at also address climate change. These two issues of poverty and climate change cannot be addressed exclusive of each other. Not that climate change is that which will make people poor. No. There has been many poor people and countries even before climate change became a very topical issue engaging the minds of all who care. But climate change has the potential to worsen an already bad situation.

So how will climate change affect poverty reduction? Let's consider two critical ones. The world bank study points out that:
  • Without action, climate change would likely spark higher agricultural prices and could threaten food security in poorer regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Take most of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa, almost all have their economies heavily dependent on agriculture. So when the impacts of climate change tend to be negative on agriculture, it means bad news for source of income, food security, nutrition, jobs, livelihoods and foreign exchange. "Shock Waves - Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty" estimate that by 2030, crop yield losses could mean that food prices would be 12% higher on average in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is not something to fold the arms and watch. Take any typical poor household in Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, they may already be spending more than half of their income on food, not to think about education, clothing, healthcare, transportation, rent, utilities, etc. Such families are already at their breaking point and cannot afford to pay more for food. So, it is easy to understand that if nothing is done, most of Sub-Saharan Africa is staring malnutrition in the face. Malnutrition is coming to us and although we refuse to welcome him, he will come nonetheless, unless serious action is taken. 
  • Climate change also will magnify many threats to health, as poor people are more susceptible to climate-related diseases such as malaria and diarrhea. At the global level, warming of 2-3°C could increase the number of people at risk for malaria by up to 5%, or more than 150 million more people affected. Diarrhea would be more prevalent, and increased water scarcity would have an effect on water quality and hygiene. This is not good news at all. The result would be an estimated 48,000 additional deaths among children under the age of 15 resulting from diarrheal illness by 2030. Juxtapose this on a health system that is already on its knees in most of Sub-Saharan Africa. this is not good news.
The new report points out a very important fact, "poverty reduction is not a one-way street. Many people exit or fall back into poverty each year ." So, the work is not a simple one. It is not one that starts today and ends tomorrow, just like that. It is not a linear equation but a very complicated multi-lateral equation that demands more minds and great effort. The world needs to proceed with high urgency. The poorer a people are, the lower their adaptive capacity and the more vulnerable they are to the negative effects of climate change. And the impacts of climate change are expected to increase, judging from the trajectory the world is moving in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

As the world meets in Paris this December 2015, I sincerely hope and pray that a good deal will come out of the meeting. COP 21 should be a turning point. As the world transitions from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), may Paris bring the world something sustainable.

Less argument in Paris.

“Men argue. Nature acts.” ― Voltaire

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