In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food is highlighted as among the most fundamental necessities for human survival. However, despite the importance of food, nearly 805 million people today are food insecure while over 2 billion are undernourished . Fortunately, the World Food Programme (WFP), the worlds largest non-profit fighting hunger, operates with an audacious mission to solve this problem. Its primary activities include providing emergency food aid and improving nutrition for vulnerable populations.
While human conflicts can give rise to emergency situations, natural disasters are the leading cause of hunger and malnutrition and are the key drivers for WFP’s services. Consequently, WFP is likely in for its biggest challenge yet due to climate change, which is increasing the frequency of extreme weather events (e.g., droughts, floods, and storms) and longer-term climate risks (e.g., higher temperatures, rising sea levels, changing flood/drought patterns) .
There are major implications of climate change on food and nutrition. The effects of rising temperatures have already proven to decrease crop yield as “global maize and wheat production declined by 3.8 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, from 1980 to 2008”. Changing drought and flood patterns may also further strain crop yield and quality. Decreased yield and quality will lead to lower quantity and quality food for consumption, and reduce farmer incomes. Food scarcity also increases the likelihood of conflict, further threatening food security. Fast forward to 2050 and the situation may become dire. The global population is projected to be 9.6 billion by 2050  while the demand for food is projected to double . All the while prices will rise – with certain staples such as wheat projected to be 40% higher while fruits and vegetables could be up to 30% more expensive, thereby putting food even further from people’s reach .
Projecting vulnerability for food insecurity (darker shades) by 2050 assuming emissions are slightly reduced, and with a low level of adaptation
WFP is very aware of the threat from climate change. If it was only to act reactively and provide food aid to those impacted, the costs of such services would likely spiral into several tens of billions a year . It’s therefore crucial for it to focus on proactive efforts and is currently doing the following :
- Analyzing the link between climate change and food security. WFP is modeling the impact of climate change on key food security criteria including availability, access, utilization, and stability, with the intent of informing policy and actions .
- Creating early warning systems for disasters to empower governments and communities. Doing so will allow for better preparation and faster response from disasters.
- Helping vulnerable populations diversify their income generation beyond farming. Vulnerable populations that derive most of their income from farming are at risk from climate change shocks. Helping them diversify their income streams lessens the impact of these shocks.
- Developing weather-based insurance and savings programs. For instance, such initiatives offer farmers insurance to compensate them during weather-related losses and eliminate the need for them to sell productive assets out of desperation, thereby returning them to productivity sooner. Farmers first pay for the insurance with their own labor, since most lack sufficient funds, with the intention for them to eventually pay with cash .
Assuming the two major levers for lessening the impact of climate change on vulnerable populations is (1) increasing ways for these populations to adapt and become more resilient, and (2) lowering overall emissions, there are additional steps that WFP can take. The organization can further help its target populations adapt by finding innovative and low cost ways to support access to clean water and sanitation that are less impacted by catastrophes. Inadequate sanitation and unclean water can lead to illness and prevent those effected from engaging in productive work to support themselves and their family.
On the topic of lowering emissions, tactically WFP can help farmers adopt more emission-friendly farming practices and their families more efficient lighting and cooking sources. Doing so would lessen emissions, and reduce the instances of farmers depleting soil or families cutting trees for fuel. Perhaps most impactfully, WFP can leverage its forecast data and actual data from operating in the field to make a credible and compelling case for the monetary impact of climate change. It can demonstrate the growing divide between available funding and necessary aid when approaching governments and funders. By advocating for emission reductions with a strong financial case, WFP can ideally help speed up the adoption of emission reducing protocols.
On humanities path to attaining the self-actualization proposed by Maslow, we must first overcome the threat of climate change and ensure access to sufficient food and nutrition for everyone. WFP is leading the charge and through innovation, partnerships, and advocacy can ideally succeed. (798 words)
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