Food security is the focal topic of the WorldRiskReport 2015. Published annually by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, an alliance of German NGOs and the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University (UNU-EHS), the Report centres on the WorldRiskIndex, which ranks countries according to their potential disaster risk. The Index is compiled by combining data on a country’s exposure to natural hazards with its vulnerability, which comprises its susceptibility to hazards and its lack of coping and adaptive capacities.
“The disastrous effects of natural hazards such as earthquakes or cyclones can be contained by ensuring people’s food supplies. Hungry people are more vulnerable to disasters, wars and conflicts,” says Peter Mucke, CEO of Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft and head of the WorldRiskReport project. Mucke explains that by 2030, around 1.2 billion people more will have to be fed – that is as much as the number of India’s present inhabitants. He is nevertheless hopeful that the “Zero Hunger Goal” can be achieved by 2030, and explains that “in absolute terms, there is enough food for all. However, an unequal distribution of agricultural products, food wastage and harvest or post-harvest losses are responsible for people still having to suffer hunger.”
Once again, the island state of Vanuatu, ravaged by Cyclone Pam only last March, heads the Report’s list of 171 countries in terms of disaster risk. Germany is in 146th position. For 64 of the 68 countries bearing a high or even very high exposure to natural hazards, indicators such as relative food prices and also the Global Hunger Index of alliance member “Deutsche Welthungerhilfe” were used to determine the level of food insecurity. The Report divides these countries into five groups. For instance, Australia, Chile and Greece belong to the group of 13 countries that are in a very good initial situation in terms of food insecurity. At the other end of the scale, Bangladesh, Haiti, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste are among the 13 countries in which there is an urgent need for action to establish food security.
There is no statistical link between hunger and disaster risk. For example, despite Japan’s very high disaster risk, no-one has to go hungry in this country. However, food insecurity and disaster risk do reinforce each other, with disasters often having a devastating impact on a country’s food situation and food insecurity forcing people to migrate to places with a high disaster risk, such as hill slopes or river banks. Also, conflicts can then arise over land and scarce natural resources.
In the worst case, the combination of disasters and food insecurity can lead to a fatal downward spiral, with people slipping from one crisis into the next. It is particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa that the hotspot regions of hunger and vulnerability overlap, and this is also where severe effects of climate change are reckoned with which in turn will pose further food security problems. “Even the most far-reaching disaster prevention strategies won’t be sufficient if the international community of states does not opt for a bold climate policy considering the situation of the population groups and countries worst affected by disaster risks,” says Martin Bröckelmann-Simon, who heads Alliance member Misereor’s International Co-operation Department.
“Both policies and practical measures therefore need to aim at making food security more crisis-proof and simultaneously establishing it as a key element of disaster prevention,” concludes Matthias Garschagen, who heads the Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Management & Adaptive Planning Section at UNU-EHS and is chief scientist of the WorldRiskReport. The Report’s recommendations clearly address this topic.
Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany