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Climate Change and Hunger: Exploring the Direct Link

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18 min read

As a result, food prices are rising, and many people are struggling to afford adequate nutrition. In 2021, about 193 million people experienced acute hunger. Surprisingly, this isn't the largest figure for world hunger. Furthermore, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 29% of the global population faces less extreme, but still dangerous, levels of food insecurity.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the world today, and it has a significant impact on food security in many countries. Over 80%,of individuals suffering from hunger globally, reside in nations that are susceptible to natural disasters.

The connection between climate change and hunger is growing more critical, posing significant challenges to achieving zero hunger worldwide. Rising temperatures, water scarcity, and extreme weather events impact food production, hitting vulnerable communities hardest, especially in developing countries. Immediate action is needed to mitigate this escalating global hunger crisis. As we confront the escalating crisis of climate change and its impact on global hunger, one critical question that surfaces is how much would it cost to end world hunger? This query is essential in determining the financial strategies and investments needed to address both climate change and hunger in a more integrated and efficient manner.

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The Causes of Hunger and its Impact on Global Communities

Last year, Burkina Faso was placed among the nations with the highest number of individuals suffering from severe food insecurity and regions facing the threat of famine. Due to conflict, food insecurity, COVID-19, and climate-related disasters, one in five people in the country require aid, and 1.4 million have been forced to flee their homes.

Likewise, Sub-Saharan Africa struggles with the highest prevalence of undernutrition globally, with one in five individuals experiencing hunger. The root causes of this issue include:

  • ongoing conflicts
  • severe drought
  • rising food prices
  • disparities in access to resources
  • inadequate infrastructure

Factors Contributing to Hunger and Food Insecurity

1. Poverty and inequality

Extreme poverty is one of the root causes of hunger, as people living in poverty often lack the resources to access enough food to meet their daily needs. In addition, inequality in access to food and other resources can also contribute to hunger. To learn more, check out our article on Climate Change, Poverty, and the Threat to Food Security.

2. Inflation

Data from the World Bank indicates that the cost of food continues to rise within countries globally. Data from September to December 2022 indicates high inflation in most low and middle-income countries; 94.1% of low-income countries, 92.9% of lower-middle-income countries, and 89% of upper-middle-income countries have seen inflation levels of over 5%. The proportion of high-income countries experiencing high food price inflation has also risen to 87.3%. The regions most affected are Africa, North America, Latin America, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia.

3. Conflict and displacement

According to the World Food Program, 60% of the world's hungry people live in areas afflicted by war and violence. Conflicts and displacement can disrupt food systems and displace communities, leaving people without access to food and other resources. For example, the Syrian Civil War has caused the number of people at risk of hunger to reach record-high levels. Today, about 60% of Syria’s population suffer from food insecurity due to high food prices.

Additionally, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has led to higher natural gas prices. As a result, global fertilizer prices have increased, posing a threat to lower crop yields.

4. Lack of access to education and resources

In agricultural productivity, more education and resources can be needed to limit people's ability to grow food. This can be particularly challenging for farmers in rural communities that rely on subsistence farming. Also, people living in poverty may need more money to access land to grow their own crops.

Without access to money, the risk of malnutrition and acute hunger increases as people are unable to purchase food. This brings up an important question: how much would it cost to end world hunger? Knowing this figure is crucial to direct financial resources effectively and to engage international stakeholders in a concerted effort to address this challenge.

5. Weather patterns and extreme events

Natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and storms can also damage crops and infrastructure, making it difficult for people to access food. To combat these challenges, it is vital to stay informed about world hunger trends which can guide our strategies and policies to better anticipate and meet the needs of affected populations.

6. COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on global hunger, exacerbating existing issues and creating new challenges. The disruption of food systems and economic downturn caused by the pandemic led to job loss and reduced income for millions of people, making it difficult for them to afford nutritious food. Additionally, the pandemic affected the ability of aid organizations to provide assistance to affected communities.

The pandemic has also affected food production and international trade as lockdowns and social distancing measures disrupted supply chains, making it harder for farmers to get their products to market. This led to food waste and price spikes. One approach to address hunger, particularly among children, is through initiatives like the national school lunch program. Such programs play a crucial role in ensuring that vulnerable children have access to nutritious meals, thereby contributing to their overall health and ability to learn.

All these factors together contributed to an increase in global hunger, with the United Nations estimating that around a tenth of the global population were undernourished in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

Last year, Burkina Faso was placed among the nations with the highest number of individuals suffering from severe food insecurity and regions facing the threat of famine. Due to conflict, food insecurity, COVID-19, and climate-related disasters, one in five people in the country require aid, and 1.4 million have been forced to flee their homes.

The Effects of Hunger on Individuals and Communities

1. Health and nutrition

Hunger can have a negative impact on the health and nutrition of individuals, particularly children, leading to chronically undernourished people and increased susceptibility to disease. In 2020, 27.4% of children under the age of five in Southeast Asia suffered from stunted growth due to being from poor families and rural areas. Iron deficiencies are also associated with food insecurity.

2. Economic stability

Hunger can also have a negative impact on economic stability, as people may be forced to spend a larger portion of their income on food, leaving less for other needs such as healthcare and education.

3. Socio-political stability

As the price increases for food, food availability can become scarce in times of crisis, leading to social unrest and displacement of communities.

4. Gender gap in food insecurity

In 2021, the gender gap in food insecurity continued to widen with a percent increase of 4.3 percentage points, with 31.9% of women in the world being moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6% of men. This represents an increase from the previous year, where the gap was at 3 percentage points.

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The Link Between Hunger and Climate Change

Climate change is a critical global concern that has the potential to impact food security and exacerbate the issue of hunger significantly. The changing climate conditions, such as increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, droughts and floods, are known to damage crops and disrupt agricultural production, which in turn can lead to food shortages and food price increases. Additionally, climate change also affects the distribution of certain crops, making it increasingly difficult for farmers to grow them in certain regions. These factors can lead to food insecurity and malnutrition for many communities, particularly those that are already vulnerable due to poverty or other socioeconomic factors.

The Effects of Climate Change on Global Food Security

Climate shocks, such as severe droughts and floods have devastating effects on people, crops and livelihoods. If the world fails to take immediate climate action, hunger will inevitably spiral out of control. Understanding what causes world hunger is key in formulating targeted responses.

Below are several of the effects of climate change on global food security:

  1. Droughts and flooding: Climate change, in the form of severe droughts and flooding, can have a devastating impact on crop yields. Droughts can cause water scarcity and reduce crop productivity, while flooding can damage crops and infrastructure. Between 2011 and 2012, East Africa faced its worst drought in 60 years which led to a severe food crisis across the region. Today, the Horn of Africa, including South Sudan, are facing a profoundly alarming hunger crisis as erratic rainfall persists.

  2. Loss of crop productivity and livestock: Climate crisis and global warming caused by the increasing greenhouse gas emissions, heat waves and rising global temperatures can lead to a decrease in crop productivity, which exacerbates the problem of hunger.

  3. Disruption of food systems: Climate change can disrupt food systems by causing changes in weather patterns, making it more difficult to grow certain crops or fish in certain areas. It can also cause damage to infrastructure and make it more difficult to transport food. Climate variability also increases the risk of crop failures and soil erosion, which can lead to hunger.

  4. Reduced crop yields: Climate change affects crop yields, leading to food scarcity and increased prices. This is particularly challenging for developing countries, where food security is already an issue.

  5. Increased food prices: Climate change can also lead to increased food prices as a result of reduced crop yields and the added costs of irrigation systems and other measures to adapt to changing weather conditions.

  6. Displacement of vulnerable communities: Climate-related disasters such as droughts, floods, and storms can displace communities, leaving them without access to food and other resources. The greatest risk is for those living in vulnerable areas, such as urban areas or areas with limited access to clean water or agricultural land. For example, climate shocks and violence are pushing a vast majority of people in Central America, approximately 378,000 people, to flee to the United States every year.

Solutions to Address Hunger and Climate Change

Addressing global hunger is a critical goal of sustainable development. It is clear that in order to achieve this goal, we need to take action to address the impacts of climate change. Moreover, rich nations must lead in combating poverty and climate change.

Climate models indicate higher temperatures globally. With a warmer average global temperature, the water cycle will speed up  due to a higher rate of evaporation. As a result, global average precipitation can increase by 7% for each degree of warming, leading to more rain, snow, and a higher risk of flooding to some regions.

Several organizations and countries are already addressing these global problems.

United States

In a White House conference on hunger, nutrition, and health on September 28, 2022, President Biden laid out a goal to end hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030.

The administration also released a National Strategy with actions the federal government will take and a call to action for partners across all sectors to help end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases and disparities.

In 2021, the United States also made a $10 billion commitment to end hunger and invest in food systems at home and abroad. The $10 billion commitment aims to address:

  • Food Security and Agricultural Projects
  • Nutrition in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
  • Food Fortification
  • Food Loss and Waste Reduction
  • School Meals
  • Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry
  • Gender Responsive Agricultural Systems Policy

U.N. World Food Programme (WFP)

According to their website, over the past decade, 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters. Typically, the communities that contribute the least to the climate crisis have to bear the brunt of its impacts.

WFP's Anticipatory Action programme helps countries and communities to develop early-warning systems to trigger humanitarian action before extreme weather events impact vulnerable families.

WFP also provides climate information to smallholder farmers, as well as providing analysis to vulnerable countries on the links between food security and climate risk. WFP provides smallholder farmers with sustainable energy equipment and services to boost food production, like solar pumps, solar mills, and solar fridges. In 2020, WFP enabled over 1.6 million people to access sustainable energy products and services.

Strategies for Sustainable Agriculture

1. Supporting small farms and sustainable agriculture

Support small-scale farmers to implement sustainable agricultural practices, such as agroforestry, which can improve soil health, increase biodiversity, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Promote climate-resilient crops

Promoting crops that can withstand higher temperatures and changing weather patterns can help ensure food security in the face of a changing climate. Additionally, international trade enables us to take advantage of regional differences in climate change and to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on food security.

3. Using climate models to inform decision making

Climate models can help farmers adapt to make more informed decisions about crop selection and planting times.

4. Investing in rural infrastructure

Investing in rural infrastructure such as irrigation systems, roads and storage facilities can increase the resilience of small-scale farmers and improve their access to markets.

5. Education and family planning

Addressing population growth through family planning and education can alleviate pressure on food systems as additional people will require more resources.


As new evidence and reports continue to signal that the number of hungry people in the world is growing, the climate emergency must be addressed.

It is vital that we work together to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions, help communities adapt to changing weather conditions, and support sustainable food systems that can withstand the impact of climate change.

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