Climate impact undermining food security | The Daily Star
12:20 AM, June 05, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:04 AM, June 05, 2013

World Environment Day Special

Climate impact undermining food security

Devasted crop field Devasted crop field

The planet we live in is faced with unprecedented growth of population estimated at more than 7.05 billion disproportionately distributed among the developed (over 1.2 billion) and less developed (over 5.8 billion) countries (Population Reference Bureau, 2012 World Population Data Sheet). Just due to population pressure, the planet is struggling hard to provide enough resources and food to sustain its over 7 billion population (rising to 9 billion by 2050). FAO estimates that 1 in every 7 people in the world go to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 die daily from hunger, and over 870 million people globally wake up hungry every morning while 1/3 of global food production go waste or lost despite all our techno-agricultural advancement in the 21st century (World Environment Day Booklet, UNEP, 2013). In support of releasing the millions of global population from hunger and malnutrition United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed the global 'Zero Hunger Challenge' during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012.

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Climate change impact
Changing trends of global climate has profound impact on food production system particularly agriculture. Over the last decades, extreme climatic events such as tropical cyclone, flood, tornado, salinity ingression, drought and aridity have dramatically affected food production across the world particularly developing countries like Bangladesh. The report of IPCC warns that increased frequency of heat stress, floods, droughts, cyclones, and pest outbreaks will exacerbate the conditions for crop growth and food production in many regions, especially in the dry tropics at lower latitudes like northern Bangladesh.
'Think. Eat. Save. Reduce your Foodprint'—the motto of 'World Environment Day-2013' is an anti-food loss campaign in the era of rapid climate change, and encourages actions to save food grain from adverse impacts of climate change. A laconic illustration is presented here to depict the contribution of extreme climatic events shattering food production of Bangladesh.

Tropical cyclones
Over the past decades, Bangladesh has experienced some deadliest tropical cyclones. The most notables occurred in 1988s, 1990s, 1991s, 1997s, 2007s and 2009s in terms of intensity of croplands and agricultural damages throughout the country. The profound impacts of these terrible cyclones first appeared on the farming communities who wholesale lost their standing crops of rice paddy, vegetable gardens, fisheries, shrimp farms, commercial plantation of fruits and trees etc. The country faced the highest devastating damage of food production during super cyclone Sidr in 2007 in its history, estimated at completely damaging 7, 42,826 acres of crops while 17, 30,116 acres were partially damaged. Another two tropical storms such as Rashmi (2008) damaged 775 acres of crop fully and 18022 acres partially; Bijli (2009) 320 acres fully in Bhola and 4815 acres partially in Chittagong, Cox's Bazar and Bhola. On May 16, 2013, cyclone Mahasen hit at least six coastal districts (e.g. Patuakhali, Pirojpur, Noakhali, Barguna, Bhola) and completely shattered the standing crops on 80,000 hectares in Barguna, Patuakhali, and Bhola.

Flood and river bank erosion
Flooding and erosion of river bank are predominant factors of shattering crop fields and food production during the monsoon. 80% of total land of the country is flood plain of which about 26,000 km2, (around 18%) is flooded. According to Disaster Management Bureau (DMB), the total estimated damage of crop production was 2983362 acres in 1987, 1119998 acres in 1988, 1220225 acres in 1991, 2823751 acres in 1995, 1423320 acres in 1998, 321355 acres in 2000, 373376 acres in 2003, 1605958 acres in 2004, and 890898 acres in 2007. Annual flooding in each year also partially damaged extensive acres of crop throughout the country. Just only in 1988 it partially shattered 9993436 acres of standing crop and other food production.

Drought and aridity
Bangladesh experiences seven months of arid period from November to May, when rainfall usually becomes low. But severe drought mostly affects the country, particularly north and northwest parts, from March to May (pre-monsoon) and October to November (post-monsoon). So these regions (e.g. Rangpur, Chapai Nawabganj, Dinajpur, Bogura, and Rajshahi) are likely to be badly affected during drought under climate change impact. It may result in annual damage of 2.32 million hectares of cultivable aman production and 2.2 million hectares of rabi crops production. In 2006, extreme drought in the northwestern part of Bangladesh reduced aman crop production by nearly 25–30% (Habiba et al. 2012, Farmer's perception and adaptation practices to cope with drought: Perspectives from Northwestern Bangladesh). Drought also causes price hike, job crisis, drinking and irrigation water crisis, income loss and food insecurity for rural people.

Salinity ingression
Approximately 30% of total cultivable lands of the country are located at coastal regions. Salinity monitoring information suggests that nearly 1.02 million ha (about 70%) of arable lands are badly affected by varying degrees of soil salinity (Haque S A. 2006, Salinity problems and crop production in coastal regions of Bangladesh). The salinity ingression is one of the major natural hazards contributing to land degradation in coastal Bangladesh. It has already appeared as a threat to the coastal agriculture with a significant loss of crops production. The increasing concentration of salinity will generate tremendous pressure on the farmers threatening livelihood options and food security.
However, adverse upshots of climate change not just shatter the food production globally, it also undermines food security of countless vulnerable people in developing and under developed world. So the message of 'World Environment Day-2013' indirectly conveys an urgent responsibility as well—to think globally and to save the environment from dreadful impacts of climate change for food production, and ensuring a sustainable food security for 870 million people living with hunger.

The writer is Associate Coordinator (Research & Advocacy), Nodi o Jibon-II Project, Unnayan Shamannay. E-mail:

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