Climate Change and Nepal’s food insecurity

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Food insecurity and malnutrition is one of the major health issues caused by climate change. It is irrefutably the most important consequences to the poor and least developed countries like Nepal where about quarter of the population are living in poverty. When the underlying population is starving and the fact that food security directly impacts human health is evident, all other problems besides being food secure becomes secondary. To aggravate the situation further, the constantly changing climatic pattern is constantly threatening the major basis of livelihood of the country i.e. agriculture.

According to Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) of Nepal, “over the last decade, around 30,845 hectares of land owned by almost five percent of households became uncultivable due to the climate-related hazards”. Majority of the land under cultivation (76%) is rain-fed which has been affected by the erratic patterns of rainfall, drought, flash floods, landslide et cetera over the years. The reduced winter crop production due to lower post-monsoon precipitation directs a concern of food security amongst those residing in Hill and Mountain areas that are economically and environmentally highly vulnerable to climate changes.

Ranked 4th under Climate Vulnerability Index, it is not easier for Nepal to jump out of the vulnerable condition mainly due to the tough topographic barrier and low infrastructural sufficiency. The most relevant example of how unprepared we are to the climate-related risks is the occurrence of flash flood in 2017 which caused 80% of the southern agricultural belt to submerge in water causing a loss of about 57 million USD of agricultural crops and also claimed hundreds of lives.

Rice, which is a staple crop of the nation is also the crop which is most affected by water hazards. The food security of the country depends more on the production of rice than other crops which contribute 45% to the edible food grain production on a domestic scale. Looking at the extent of damage the current flash flood has done to the Terai “The Breadbasket of the nation” which occupies largest share of rice producing area, it is not too difficult to imagine a food insecure future that our unpreparedness to disasters is certain to follow.

FAO (2006) reports that climate change will affect all four dimensions of food security, namely food availability, access to food, the stability of food supplies and food utilization. Climate variability and change could affect food security and nutrition through a combination of reduced food production, higher food prices, and lower food utilization due to increased infections and more intense and frequent climate-related disasters, which could negatively affect livelihoods and access to critical health and social facilities.

Poor diet diversity is a serious problem across much of Nepal where malnutrition plays a role in 60 percent of child deaths. About 518,000 children under five years of age are suffering from acute under-nutrition, or wasting, and have a heightened risk of morbidity and mortality. Food insecurity is more intense in remote areas where the lack of access to food combined with the poverty directly affects the nutritional status of the family.

Most of the families battling malnutrition are entrapped within the vicious cycle of poverty. Climate change not only affects agricultural production and availability of food in Nepal but also creates a negative impact on access to food for the poor, reducing their purchasing power and hence pushing them further towards the whirlpool of food insecurity and malnutrition. Besides the talk of the nutritional balance and balanced diet, the climate change might evoke conditions where even the day to day feeding might become gruesome.

The incidences like Glacier Lake Outburst Floods in Himalayan region, inundations in Terai, unpredictable weather incidences like the shift of monsoon period etc has been an evidence of increasing climate hazards. Though Government of Nepal has a policy of increasing food production to meet the domestic food need, the food production is getting threatened by climate change affecting the mission to achieve long-term food security at the national level.

Lost amidst the jargon of political instability of the country, the policymakers seem to have overshadowed the most alarming issue of food insecurity at present. While Nepal is still recovering from the major disasters of past like earthquake and floods, this matter cannot be undermined. After all, no nation can be built if its people are famished and malnourished. It’s time for the policymakers to calibrate the looking glass to a wider horizon and take a look at a major issue at hand.

I am a final year student pursuing B.Sc. Agriculture in Agriculture and Forestry University, Nepal. I am passionate about the issues addressing food security and climate change and I hope to work in these fields in the coming days.

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Twitter- @pandeyswkriti

Swikriti Pandey

Final year student at Agriculture and Forestry University, Chitwan, Nepal