Hunger, malnutrition and climate change: the challenges facing Southeast Asia
Southeast Asian governments must be wary of deteriorating food security in the region, lest its effects complicate post-pandemic recovery and exacerbate existing inequalities.
We live in strange times. While a small minority enjoy material abundance and look forward to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and space tourism, a much larger proportion of the world’s population faces hunger and food insecurity. Due to climate change, the socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and various conflicts, the world is doing worse than ever when it comes to eradicating hunger. About 10% of the world’s population, or about 768 million people, faced hunger and undernourishment in 2020. More than 750,000 people are expected to face starvation and death in 2022. According to trends the world will be far from achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2), which aims to achieve “zero hunger” by 2030.
In Southeast Asia, 7.3% of the region’s population was undernourished while 18.8% faced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2020. In 2020, 27.4% of children aged Southeast Asians under the age of five – most of them from poor families and rural areas – suffered from stunted growth. A recent report suggested that significant progress has been made in ASEAN member states to address food insecurity and malnutrition in recent years, but more targeted investments and scaling up of nutrition programs are needed. needed if ASEAN is to achieve SDG2 and 2025. global nutrition goals.
Food security encompasses more than just the amount of food available – its definition also includes people’s ability to buy adequate amounts of nutritious food and their ability to do so regularly. In Southeast Asia, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have severely disrupted food supply chains, contributing to higher prices. These disruptions include reductions in labor supply due to travel restrictions, although these are beginning to ease, and disruptions in agri-food transportation. Additionally, nearly three-quarters of ASEAN households have experienced a drop in income due to the pandemic. All of this has affected people’s ability to buy adequate food.
The poorest in Southeast Asia have been the hardest hit by these headwinds. Ironically, in Thailand – a country that has billed itself as the “kitchen of the world” – almost 30% of Thais experienced moderate or severe food insecurity between 2018 and 2020, compared to around 15% between 2014 and 2016. also show that food price inflation and falling incomes have forced many low-income households in countries like Laos, Malaysia and Cambodia to consume cheaper but less nutritious foods in recent years.
Southeast Asian policymakers should redouble their efforts to better prepare for the effects of climate change on food security.
Attempts to address hunger and malnutrition in Southeast Asia are further complicated by the effects of climate change, which interact with and amplify other major drivers of food insecurity such as conflict, economic downturns, poverty and inequality. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has suggested, using projections with high statistical confidence, that climate change will lead to reduced food supplies and higher prices, which will undermine the food security in South and Southeast Asia. One estimate suggests that rice yield in Southeast Asia could decline by up to 50% due to floods, droughts and heat stress. Rice plantations in the river delta areas will also be badly affected by the increase in water salinity due to sea level rise.
The effects of climate change on food security go beyond reductions in the supply of staple food grains, such as rice. Extreme weather conditions, for example, are likely to hamper people’s ability to obtain food on a regular basis, for example by disrupting transport routes. Notably, many people in ASEAN depend on agriculture and fishing for their livelihood. The adverse effects of climate change on agricultural productivity and fish stocks can reduce these people’s incomes and their ability to buy adequate food. Climate change is also likely to further reduce the production and supply of nutritious foods, which is highly problematic as the availability of nutritious foods in the ASEAN food supply (i.e. fruits, vegetables and various protein sources) is already quite limited. Nutrient-dense foods are relatively expensive. A study suggested that in 2020, some 46% of the ASEAN population could not afford a healthy diet. Throughout the 2010s, the ASEAN population relied heavily on carbohydrates such as rice and about 24% received insufficient amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, which negatively affected their cognitive abilities and life opportunities.
It is a good sign that ASEAN has established the Regional Integrated Food Security Framework (ASIFS) and its member states have adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Malnutrition in 2017. Policymakers in South Asia Southeast should redouble their efforts to better prepare for the effects of climate change. change in food security. It is important that governments in Southeast Asia firmly respect and protect the right of their citizens to adequate food, taking into account the importance of trade and the food needs of other countries. In particular, governments should note that rising food prices will disproportionately reduce the purchasing power of poor and low-income households, and this will increase the risk of hunger and malnutrition. Not only is protecting food security ethically the right thing to do, but it also makes economic sense: adequate food is essential for human development, and human development benefits the economy and all members of society.