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Weather aberrations may exacerbate hunger
By Devinder Sharma

The devastation wrought by aberrant weather conditions in several parts of the world has posed a larger question about the implications climate change has for food security of a nation.

Food self-sufficiency becomes critical during a natural calamity (photo
courtesy: Washington Post)

Something terrible is happening to the weather. And it is happening right across our home. From the cold desert of Ladakh to the plains of Bihar and Jharkhand, extreme weather conditions have played havoc. In neighbouring Pakistan, unprecedented floods, including in the arid region of Sindh, have hit more than 14 million people. Latest estimates point to 4 million people rendered homeless.

For some strange reasons, rainfall received due to cloudburst in Leh on a single day was higher than the highest in Cherrapunji. Normally, Leh has been known to receive precipitation in the form of snow only. Although rains had appeared in the Ladakh cold desert for some years now, but such intense downpour defies scientific explanation. In Pakistan, what caused the floods was also a massive downpour, more than what it normally receives in a month.

If you think such weather fluctuations are only happening in India and Pakistan, you are mistaken. Severe drought and wildfires have been raging in Russia for almost a month now. A dense layer of dark cloud hangs over much of Russia. Not only in north-eastern India, parts of Africa and eastern United States are also reeling under a severe drought.

Seemingly disconnected, these extreme weather conditions are being increasingly linked to global warming. While the official machinery grapples to ascertain the extent of damage, scientists are now trying to ascertain the causal reasons. Many believe that such drastic weather aberrations are because of global warming, but the linkages are still not that clearly defined.

Whatever be the reasons, the devastation wrought by aberrant weather conditions in several parts of the world has posed a bigger question about the implications it has for food security. Already, Russia and parts of Africa have lost wheat crop in millions of acres. In view of the loss in harvest, Russia has already banned wheat export. Pakistan is also contemplating food imports to tide over the shortages emanating from the deluge.

Unmindful of the growing threat to food security from resulting global warming, India too is busy acquiring good fertile lands for industrial purposes, real estate and infrastructure.

In the past too, Australia and Canada had low wheat harvests necessitating large cuts in grain exports. Again, wheat harvest in both these countries had been impacted by distortions in the usual climate pattern thereby pushing global food prices. This only goes to show how precarious and at the same time crucial is for every country to maintain food self-sufficiency.

As has been witnessed earlier in 2007-08, when food prices shot up globally, resulting in food riots in 37 countries, even for countries which had foreign exchange reserves to fall back upon there was no surplus food available in the global markets. While this has necessitated the scramble to scout for fertile land in other countries for crop cultivation and shipping the food back, domestic economic policies are being designed to drive out farmers from agriculture. I don’t understand the logic of farmland grab in foreign countries when agriculture back home is sacrificed for the sake of industry.

Unmindful of the growing threat to food security from resulting global warming, India too is busy acquiring good fertile lands for industrial purposes, real estate and infrastructure. In Uttar Pradesh, for instance, 26,000 villages will disappear when all expressway projects are completed. Since 1980, more than 9.8 lakh hectares of tribal land in the country has been diverted for industrial projects. In addition, over 1.5 lakh hectares of land is to be acquired only for Special Economic Zones.

Somehow an impression is being given as if climate change is the act of god, and is beyond human role. Climate change has become the scapegoat for all ills, most of it the outcome of wrong economic policies.

Land acquisition is on a fast track, without realising that land is essential for producing food for a population as huge as that of India. It has to be understood that dependence on imported food to meet the food security challenges is no longer a sustainable option. Global warming has already hit foodgrain production internationally, and should make countries to rethink food policies, to ensure that more food is produced within the country.

Unfortunately, policy makers and planners are not willing to look beyond climate change. The resulting impact on food and livelihood security is not forcing the governments to redefine the model of growth economics. The bigger tragedy is that all weather extremes are now being very conveniently blamed on climate change. Somehow an impression is being given as if climate change is the act of god, and is beyond human role. Climate change has become the scapegoat for all ills, most of it the outcome of wrong economic policies.

This mindset is more destructive than the actual devastation caused by greenhouse gases. Intensive farming across globe, aided by commodity trading and futures, is one major reason for the crop cycles going bust. Not drawing any lesson from the debacle of intensive chemical farming systems, governments are busy laying the foundation for the 2nd Green revolution, which will acerbate the climate as well the sustainability crisis.

What is therefore urgent is to raise public opinion against government policies that add onto global warming. What happened in Leh or in Sindh in Pakistan can happen also to us. More than blaming the weather gods, it is time governments revisit economic policies that are responsible for the extreme weather fluctuations. These are not freak events. These devastating weather disruptions are man made. It is time we made the necessary corrections before inclement weather strikes us.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Environment Development  > Risks and Hazards > Global Warming and Climate Change

Don't downplay glacier melting
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It is in the interests of both India and China to allow scientific explorations and put suitable remedial solutions in place to minimise the threat of 'Glacial Lake Outburst Floods'.

Climate cost of free trade
Monday, October 26, 2009

Climate change has become the buzzword in all development discourses. However, not many realise that the international agencies now trumpeting climate change issues, have long been pushing for free global trade, which is the major cause of global warming.

Droughts make the West worried
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

From USA to China, scanty rainfall this year has led to droughts. The developed world fears recurrence of it could make some of its cities uninhabitable.
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The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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