Climatic changes and malnutrition

Lahore (NeoWeb Desk)THE human security paradigm is gaining importance in the wake of the sustainable development goals. Furthermore, developing countries of the global South are looking for ways to mitigate the hazardous impacts of climatic changes on various sectors, including agriculture.Anything that will happen to the agriculture sector will have a bearing on the overall economic activities and livelihoods, and thus affect food and nutrition security.South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular are vulnerable to climatic changes. The recent heat wave in Sindh and the heavy flooding across the country are indicators of its vulnerability. Also, if one looks critically, these climate changes are affecting the cropping intensity and patterns as well as the production and irrigation infrastructure across the country. This climate shift is putting human security in terms of food and calorie availability and consumption at risk, especially for the vulnerable poor. If not managed properly, these changes could result in yield losses of staple crops like wheat, rice, maize, pulses and livestock.This year is the sixth consecutive year of floods in Pakistan, starting from the 2010 floods that affected 20m people. In the September 2011 floods, about 1.7m acres of arable land was inundated. In each flooding episode, immense agricultural losses had occurred, and the same trend is likely to continue in the future.This year again, the floods have destroyed a lot of standing crops and livestock, particularly in Chitral and areas of lower and southern Punjab and across Sindh.In its Global Climate Risk Index 2014, the Germanwatch think-tank ranked Pakistan third in the list of countries most affected by climate change, after Haiti and the Philippines. Yet, Pakistan’s climate-change budget for 2013-14 was 44pc lower than the previous year’s.Even in the current budget (2015-16), the government has reserved a mere amount of about Rs0.5bn — 80pc lower than the previous year — for an insurance scheme aimed at benefitting low-income farmers against crop losses due to climatic events.A World Wildlife Fund study estimated that by 2040 — assuming a 0.5-degree Celsius increase in average nationwide temperatures — 8-10pc losses are expected across all crops, which corresponds to Rs30,000 per acre. For low-income farmers, this would further exacerbate the nutrition deficiencies.According to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, the climate warming in the country was twice as fast as the global mean change during 1981-2005. The mean temperature rose by about 0.74-degree Celsius from 1991 to 2005.Such a change in temperature has the potential to change weather patterns, which can also lead to increased precipitation in some areas and thus render the cultivation of some crops unsuitable. Meanwhile, according to the National Nutrition Survey series, the incidence of underweight (lower-than-normal birth weight of a child) in children aged less than five years gradually declined from around 48pc in 1985-87 to about 32pc in 2011, and this drop was observed in both rural and urban areas.The incidence of wasting (lower-than-normal weight-for-height of a child) increased from 11pc in 1985-87 to 15pc in 2011. The deterioration in stunting over time, with the high prevalence of underweight (about 32pc) reflects successive governments’ weak performance in improving the nutritional status of children.Punjab, which is known as the country’s food basket, is facing a daunting challenge in terms of malnutrition, as nearly 40pc of the province’s children under five years of age are stunted. The prevalence of underweight children is almost 30pc, while the wasting prevalence is 13.7pc.Due to its high correlation with infections, malnutrition threatens both maternal and child survival, especially in poor and underdeveloped areas. The direct and indirect factors that lead to malnutrition contribute to nearly 35pc of all under-five deaths.As a result, we need climate services that understand the growers’ needs, involve them in co-design and co-evaluation of information products and services, and develop effective communication mechanisms and provide short-term and long-term forecasts.Such services should help farmers make informed decisions about selecting, planting sequence and rotation of crops, as well as about appropriate times for harvesting and the proper use of fertilisers and pesticides.

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