Impact of climate change on food security in Pakistan

by Rimsha Malik

FOOD security is defined as when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Climate change impacts all dynamics of food security. First, it puts strain on the physical access to food due to the low production and impacts the production of food through indirect impacts such as floods, droughts and extreme weather conditions.

Secondly, when food production and supply chains face disruption, food prices automatically go up, impacting economic access to food due to inflation.

When physical and economic access faces disruption due to climate change, it also impacts the nutritional aspect.

People need more food to eat that can fulfil their dietary needs in a country where people are already facing food insecurity due to economic conditions.

Climate change can further exacerbate food insecurity. When it comes to Pakistan, climate change greatly impacted physical access to food.

The recent floods in Pakistan have wreaked havoc on crops. Pakistan is currently dealing with a severe food crisis that was caused by the floods.

A total of 78,000 sq km (30,000 sq miles) of cropland was flooded in 81 districts. There are estimates that more than 80% of the nation’s crops were harmed.

One of the worst-hit provinces is Sindh, which produces a sizeable portion of the nation’s food.

Sindh’s loss of agricultural land and crops damage has left farmers’ organizations like the Hari Welfare Association and the Sindh Abadgar Board extremely upset.

They assert that floods have negatively impacted more than 15 million people, including farmers and agricultural workers who earn a living regularly.

Food crops like rice, onion, tomatoes and other vegetables that had been growing on thousands of hectares had been destroyed.

Transport of the food that had survived has been severely disrupted by the destruction of the more than 6000km (3,728 miles) of roads and bridges.

According to forecasts in the World Bank’s 2021 Climate Risk Country Profile, “yield decreases in numerous essential food and cash crops, including cotton, wheat, sugarcane, maize and rice” are expected in Pakistan during the next ten years.

So, climate change can create long-term challenges for physical access to food which will also translate into economic hurdles to food security.

These impacts of climate change occurred in a nation suffering from rising inflation, which was already at a 14- year high of about 25% in July before the floods occurred.

According to the report released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, prices of essential items have risen to 44 per cent due to climate change.

According to the World Bank report titled Country Climate and Development, the poverty rate in Pakistan may go up by 4.7 per cent.

It means that additional 9 million people are going into poverty. An increase in poverty and combined with high inflation, is going to create massive challenges to people’s economic access to food, which is going to be a hurdle in ensuring nutritional security in Pakistan.

Pakistan is now ranked 92 out of 116 nations in the Global Hunger Index. Thirty-eight million people were already experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity before the floods, with the majority of them going to bed hungry, particularly women and children.

The WHO estimates that 18% of Pakistani youngsters are clinically undernourished. Children and older women are the most impacted demographic groups.

They will experience the worst of this catastrophe. The floods have directly impacted at least 33 million people, both in rural and urban areas.

In a study conducted in September by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and its collaborators, it was discovered that more than 70% of those questioned in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province reported having trouble getting much less nutrient-rich food.

The significant $40 billion economic loss attributed to the flood is based on UN estimates. The situation in other provinces is not better than this.

Therefore, climate change is a long-term threat to food security in Pakistan. A country such as Pakistan has a huge population and also an agro-economy.

It cannot afford a disruption in agriculture because its economy depends on it. The government should make short-term and long-term policies.

In the short term, the government should concentrate its efforts on removing floodwaters from agricultural sites in rural areas so that winter crops can be sown there.

This will prevent the nation from experiencing a protracted issue with food security. Pakistan and many other nations in the global south are suffering as a result of the global North’s long-term excessive exploitation of the environment.

In the long term, the government should develop climate-resilient infrastructure with the international community’s help.

Furthermore, there is a need for increased research to understand the impact of temperature variation on the production of different crops in Pakistan.

In addition, the government should start developing seeds that can grow in the new kind of environment.

—The writer is Researcher at Centre for International Strategic Studies AJK, Muzaffarabad, Working on Strategic Transitions and Realignments and International Security and Politics.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir