At least 12 Indian states are believed to be facing famine and experts have warned that the water crisis could worsen if urgent action is not taken. — Greenpeace statement taken yesterday by The International Business Times.
A human-forced warming of the globe is a trigger for increasingly severe droughts, water shortages, food shortages, and heatwaves intense enough to cause mass casualties. As global temperatures during 2015 and 2016 have risen to more than 1 degree Celsius above preindustrial readings, we’ve seen more and more reports coming in of these kinds of climate-change driven disruptions.
A new study out this week from the European Commission has found that 240 million people across the world are now suffering from food stress. With Greenpeace now warning that 330 million people in India alone are faced with water shortages and threat of famine, and with millions more coming under both food and water stress in Vietnam as a record Southeast Asian heatwave ramps up to never-before-seen extreme temperatures — it appears now that more than half a billion people around the world are dealing with a climate change driven food and water crisis.
It’s a growing global crisis that has now come to affect more than 45 nations. One that has put at least 80 million of those now suffering from hunger at a food stress level just one step below famine. One whose primary trigger appears to be widespread and expanding drought and extreme weather due to global temperatures hitting new all-time record highs.
(Despite what is probably the best global system ever devised to prevent and reduce hunger, the European Commission now finds that 240 million people are at risk of food stress. A number that is likely incomplete as a newly emerging heatwave in Southeast Asia is drying up food and water supplies for millions. Image source: The European Commission.)
It’s a situation that international agencies appear to be scrambling to keep track of. For with each passing week there appears to be new information about another country falling under food and water stress or of one already affected seeing conditions among strained populaces worsen.
Hunger Expanding Across The Globe
In the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world, nations are particularly vulnerable to the stress of rising temperatures. There, soil moisture is already tenuous in many regions. As temperatures rise, rates of evaporation increase and marginal areas can rapidly fall into drought. In addition, many regions reliant on glacier and snow melt to provide water during summer are seeing mountain snows vanish and high elevation glaciers dwindle away as consistently above freezing temperatures invade further and further into the higher elevations.
Across Africa, Southern and Eastern Asia, The Middle East, and Central America this story has been writ large as new climate change driven heat and dryness appears to have hit a tipping point this year. Severe heatwaves, droughts, and dwindling rivers are setting off intense hunger crises in North Korea, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Central Africa, and Nigeria — countries that now each host more than 10 million people under acute food stress. These are grim figures. But the numbers, in many cases, fail to tell the whole story of how dire the situation has actually become.
In North Korea, for example, officials there are warning of another Arduous March — a period of famine during the late 1990s and coinciding with droughts and rising global temperatures that killed more than 3.5 million in that country. Aid to North Korea during the 2000s alleviated some of the endemic hunger. But by the then record warm year of 2010 the droughts had re-emerged, and reports of hunger, stunted growth among children, and famine had again cropped up. In 2015, amidst global temperatures that had risen still higher, North Korea experienced its worst drought in at least 100 years. By as early as March, drought and heat had once-more settled in over a broad swath of Asia. And late last month, the state-run news agency Rodong Sinmun issued the following statement alluding to a rising risk of famine conditions in the country:
We may have to go on an arduous march, during which we will have to chew the roots of plants once again.
(A hothouse created by ongoing fossil fuel burning and related carbon emissions has set off droughts and heatwaves around the world leaving riverbeds and farmlands baked and bleached. Image source: India Water Portal.)
More than a score of other nations now see between 1-10 million people in their countries facing hunger. Places like Cambodia, Madagascar, Iraq, Pakistan, Venezuela, Libya, Haiti, New Guinea, Chad, Mali, Somalia, and Zamibia. Earlier this week, the situation became very acute for Somalia as a group of 23 NGOs warned that the country was at high risk of falling into famine. There, water shortages, food shortages and livestock deaths have grown more and more widespread. Ever-deepening drought has pushed crops to fail and food prices to sky-rocket. An ongoing growing season disruption that has now pushed hundreds of thousands of people into hunger.
In Cambodia, a country suffering from a severe southeast Asian drought and heatwave that has left much of the region reeling, the EC identifies up to 5 million people threatened by hunger. Heat and drought there are now so severe that farmers cannot grow traditional crops. A local farmer describes the increasingly dire situation:
“Before it was not difficult, but now due to frequent drought even bananas don’t grow and other vegetables that we normally grow here are not doing well, not enough to eat. We cannot grow all the vegetables we need so sometimes I collect food from neighbours.”
A number of nations suffering from climate change related extreme weather events now triggering additional food and water stress are not currently listed in the recent EC report. Countries like India and Vietnam, which are both now confronting record drought, heat related mass casualties, heatwaves, water shortages, farmer suicides and crop losses. The severe drought and food shortage situation in Vietnam has come on with particular speed and intensity as local officials identified more than two million people at risk of hunger there just this week:
Vietnam is in urgent need of international aid worth US$48.5 million as a crippling drought threatens to create a shortage of food and water for two million people. Officials from the country’s agriculture ministry and the United Nations estimated at a meeting Tuesday that at least two million people in southern and central Vietnam lack clean water, with 1.1 million also in need of food support.
(One of the most severe heatwaves on record settled in over Southeast Asia during April. The event has already killed 150 people due to heat alone in India — there sparking off such a severe water shortage that relief trains now move from town to town — providing people with emergency supplies as local wells and rivers dry up. In Vietnam and Cambodia, the severe heat has already lead to crop failures so widespread that millions are at risk of hunger. Image source: NASA and Voice of America.)
Indian officials have pinned hopes for refreshed water supplies on the Asian Monsoon which is scheduled to arrive by mid-to-late June. However, the human-driven warming of the globe has a tendency to reduce the amount of rainfall the annual Indian Monsoon provides. A fact hinted at in a recent statement to International Business Times by Greenpeace’s Ishteyaque Ahmad:
“Those who say that one or a few consecutive good monsoons will change the situation are either ignorant or are trying to hide the truth, which is very frightening. In fact, we are dehydrating our earth’s system by choice and not out of ignorance.”
Record High Global Temperatures as a Trigger
It is difficult to overstate the severity of droughts and heatwaves affecting many of these regions. For record-shattering high temperatures and moisture loss has been impacting these sections of the globe all throughout the 2015-2016 period. During this time, global temperatures have risen to never-before-seen levels. It’s a record spike of global heat that has been driven on by human-forced climate change. By levels of the heat trapping gas — carbon dioxide — rising to marks well above 405 parts per million this year. At the same time, El Nino has caused that heat to build up over the Equatorial and near-Equatorial regions of the world. Serving as a kind of human-forced warming amplifier for drought, heat, and water stress in these regions.
For the Summer of 2016, following one of the strongest El Ninos on record and entering a period when the world has never experienced such amazingly high global temperatures, the level of disruption is likely to be extraordinarily severe. Record heat will pull more moisture from soils and rivers than ever before, will take down the mountain snows that still exist faster than ever before, will dwindle the remaining glaciers to the lowest levels yet seen. In addition, consistent warm air invasions into the Arctic will tend to create high amplitude waves in the Jet Stream — setting up zones where droughts and heatwaves are further enhanced. So the crisis period for the Summer of 2016 has just begun.
In this context the expected onset of La Nina later in the year is far off. And though it may provide relief for some areas, this relief will be somewhat withdrawn by the climate change driven warming that is already in place and continues to steadily worsen. In addition, regions that tend to see dryness due to La Nina may see drought conditions further enhanced by the ongoing global heat build-up — places like California that should probably not let its guard down following a notably weak moisture flow off the record strong El Nino this past Winter.
Hat Tip to Colorado Bob
Hat Tip to Wili
Hat Tip to DT Lange