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The impact of natural disasters on agriculture and food security

In May 2017 the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction was held in Cancún, Mexico. The platform is the main international forum for strategic advice, coordination, partnership development and the review of progress in the implementation of international instruments on disaster risk reduction. Every year millions of people are forced to leave their homes because of floods, tropical storms, droughts, melting glaciers, earthquakes and other natural disasters. This article focuses on the impact of natural disasters on agriculture and food security.

Disasters drive hunger
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), disasters drive hunger. Disasters are a leading cause of hunger and they affect economic and physical access to food, the availability and stability of supplies and nutrition. According to WFP data, it is estimated that around 80% of the world’s 795 million hungry people live in fragile areas, these are areas that are prone to natural disasters. When a disaster strikes, the impact would include loss of homes, (productive) assets, crops and it would cause human displacement. For these already vulnerable communities this would create a double-disaster whammy, a food crisis on top of being hit by a natural disaster.

Droughts
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in developing countries, agriculture absorbs about 23% of the total of damages and losses after a natural disaster. Across the African continent, drought continues to challenge agriculture. Between 2004 and 2015 droughts have been frequent and severe in many African countries. The FAO reports that over this period, there were 84 drought occurrences in 30 countries. This has led to a potential 3-4% loss from agricultural production, a number that could go up to 10-20% in certain areas (Malawi 9.3%, Mozambique 20.1% and Mali 10.4%). As in these countries the agricultural sector contributes a large portion to national GDP, drought mitigation should be placed at the centre of disaster reduction efforts.

Climate Change
On a visit to the hurricane devastated islands in the Caribbean, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres Guterres, stated that “the link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development.” As climate change continues, it will most likely lead to more frequent and severe natural hazards. Effectively climate change causes food shortages, displacement and poverty. 

The importance of risk reduction
Disaster risk reduction is a prerequisite for sustainable development and for eliminating hunger. When the world’s most vulnerable and their assets are not protected against risk, resilience cannot be built. Food security happens, when risks are reduced.

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Rene Perey

Rene Perey