Extreme weather to worsen food crisis – Oxfam

2011-11-28 08:15

Storms and drought that have unleashed dangerous surges in food prices could be a “grim foretaste” of what lies ahead when climate change bites more deeply, Oxfam has said.

In a report issued at the start of the United Nations climate talks in Durban, the British charity pointed to spikes in wheat, maize and sorghum, triggered by extreme weather, that had driven tens of millions into poverty over the past 18 months.

“This will only get worse as climate change gathers pace and agriculture feels the heat,” said Oxfam’s Kelly Dent.

“When a weather event drives local or regional price spikes, poor people often face a double shock.

“They have to cope with higher food prices at a time when extreme weather may have also killed their livestock, destroyed their home or farm.”

In 2010, a heat wave in Russia and Ukraine sparked a rise of 60% to 80% in global wheat prices in three months, reaching 85% in April 2011, Oxfam said.

In July 2011, the price of sorghum was 393% higher in Somalia, while maize in Ethiopia and Kenya was up to 191% and 161% higher, respectively, compared with the five-year average, reflecting the impact of drought in the Horn of Africa.

Rainstorms and typhoons in Southeast Asia, meanwhile, have driven up the price of rice in Thailand and Vietnam. In September and October, the cost of this staple was 25% to 30% higher there than a year earlier.

In February, the World Bank estimated that 44 million people in developing economies had fallen into extreme poverty as a result of spiralling food prices.

In the November issue of its “Food Price Watch” report, the World Bank said that a global index of food prices peaked in February but had dipped by 5% since then.

Even so, the index was still 19% higher than in September 2010, although the figure varied greatly according to the country and the commodity, it said.

Oxfam said price hikes were a source of despair for the needy.

“For the poorest who spend up to 75% of their income on food, price rises of this scale can have consequences as families are forced into impossible trade-offs in a desperate bid to feed themselves,” it said.

It pointed to a recently published investigation by the UN’s panel of climate scientists, which said man-made global warming had already boosted heat waves and flood-provoking rainfall, and was likely to contribute to future disasters.

“More frequent and extreme weather events will compound things further, creating shortages, destabilising markets and precipitating price spikes, which will be felt on top of the structural price rises predicted by the models,” Oxfam said.

It appealed to the conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to slash greenhouse gases and activate a planned fund to help poor countries.

One goal of the Durban talks is to breathe life into a “Green Climate Fund” that, by 2020, would channel as much as $100 billion (R858 billion) a year to countries that are in the brunt of climate change. But approval has been held up by squabbles over the fund’s design.

» Follow our COP17 coverage here.


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