According to the World Food Program’s (WFP) latest report, the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to an 82 percent increase in global food insecurity, affecting around 270 million people by the end of the year. On June 29, the organization announced it is undertaking its largest humanitarian effort to assist an increasing number of food-insecure low- and middle-income countries. In a statement about the plan, WFP Executive Director David Beasley said that “until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos. Without it, we could see increased social unrest and protests, a rise in migration, deepening conflict, and widespread under-nutrition among populations that were previously immune from hunger.”
Why is the pandemic leading to more food insecurity? And why is David Beasley talking about social unrest and protest in connection with food?
The recently concluded UN Millennium Development Goals framework documented significant progress (although not complete success) in halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 2015, compared to 1990. However, in the most recent years, the global rate of undernourishment has again been on the rise. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the main cause of this retrogression is escalating violence in war-affected areas. Making matters worse, the human cost of war is sometimes compounded by climate shocks, most notably drought.
Water from the Massaca Water Reservoir in Mozambique is used to irrigate local agriculture. Photo: John Hogg/World Bank/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Focusing in on both the agreement and the disagreement sheds new light on the linkages between climate and armed conflict.
In our recent analysis, published in the journal Nature last week, we conducted an expert assessment of the relationship between climate and conflict. Previous studies have both asserted and refuted linkages between climate variability and change and their potential consequences for the risk of violent conflict. Even synthesis studies have struggled to crystallize current understanding.
In short, we found strong agreement among experts that climate – in its variability and change – influences the risk of organized armed conflict within countries. But other factors, such as the capacity of the state or levels of socioeconomic development, play a much larger role. The jury is still out on the precise mechanisms at work across different contexts. Into the future, experts estimate intensifying climate change will drive up the risks.