More than 113 million people around the world suffered from acute hunger last year, according to a report issued this year by the Food Security Information Network. Spread across 53 countries, these people were so stressed by lack of food security that they required urgent assistance on one of the most fundamental needs human beings have.
The areas where this need was most urgent are ones in which poverty or other insecurity is common. Nearly 16 million people were in Yemen, for example — a country gutted by war. The crisis spills across national boundaries: Millions of Syrians experienced a food crisis, but so did Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
These stresses are not confined to Africa and Asia. Here in the Western Hemisphere, several countries experienced similar stress, including the so-called northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in Central America.
The scale of the crisis in those countries pales next to Yemen or Congo.
As a function of population, though? It’s much more significant. The FSIN report looked at the “dry corridor” region of those countries, a tropical dry forest that runs up the western spine of Central America. It’s been in drought for years, and, of the 10.1 million people included in the FSIN’s analysis, 1.5 million experienced a crisis of food insecurity in 2018. An additional 2.6 million experienced food stress.
Between a third and a half of those assessed by the FSIN in the three countries were experiencing some level of food insecurity.
On Thursday, the United Nations released a lengthy new report assessing how climate change will affect the world’s food supply over the long term.
“Observed climate change is already affecting food security through increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and greater frequency of some extreme events,” the report reads. Future shifts in the climate as a function of increased warming will exacerbate the problem. Food security isn’t just a function of drought reducing crop production, it’s also a function of expected shifts in the nutritional content of food and in food prices as some products become more scarce. Shifts in production will lead to other economic changes, like a reduced ability to earn a living through agriculture. Stressors like military conflict or existing poverty will probably make these effects worse.
One Scottish professor quoted by the New York Times made clear one of the likely effects of these shifts in the availability of food and the ability to earn a living through farming.
“People’s lives will be affected by a massive pressure for migration,” the University of Aberdeen’s Pete Smith said. “People don’t stay and die where they are. People migrate.”
We highlighted the Central American countries above because this is exactly what we’ve seen in recent years. There are a number of causes spurring migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, including crime and economic instability. Climate-change-driven shifts in agricultural production, though, have already been cited as another spur for that movement.
“Food insecurity is a critical ‘push’ factor driving international migration,” the report reads, “along with conflict, income inequality, and population growth. The act of migration itself causes food insecurity, given the lack of income opportunities and adverse conditions compounded by conflict situations.”
“Studies have demonstrated that Mexican migration and Central American migration fluctuate in response to climate variability,” it reads at a later point. “The food system is heavily dependent on maize and bean production and long-term climate change and variability significantly affect the productivity of these crops and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.”
That migration from Central America northward toward the United States has been one of the primary focal points of President Trump’s time in the White House. He’s spent a great deal of political energy addressing the increase in migrants at the border and trying to enact policies aimed at preventing ingress, like building a wall.
At the same time, his administration’s approach to addressing climate change has been one of hostility. This week, a top climate scientist with the Department of Agriculture quit his job after administration officials tried to bury a report he’d authored linking increased atmospheric carbon dioxide to reduced nutritional value in rice. His is one of many similar stories that have emerged since January 2017, and his is not the only resignation related to an inability to share honest information about the changing world.
Trump’s approach to immigration is not and has never been preventive. It is instead reactionary, with a focus on deterring those seeking to come to the U.S. and removing those who’ve arrived and entered illegally or sought asylum. His hostility to addressing climate change is long-standing and rooted in politics.
However simple it may be to draw a line from the changing climate to increased migration, it doesn’t matter. Cracking down on migrants and deprioritizing climate change are central to Trump’s politics. An administration that’s hostile to nuanced reports on rice nutrition is not likely to be one that proactively decides that food insecurity is an urgent issue to address.