It is no longer news that the second Sustainable Development Goal, SDGs, adopted by the United Nations, UN, is “Ending hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. Although, many countries, including Nigeria, are battling to meet the goal, experts say this goal may remain a mirage following the current challenges of climate change to achieving adequate nutrition. Studies have shown that climate change directly affects food and nutrition security of millions of people. In a study published in the medical journal, Lancet, climate change could result in the deaths of half a million adults due to malnutrition per year by 2050. It was found that climate change is fuelling an impending malnutrition crisis globally.
Described as significant “hunger-risk multiplier” because it undermines efforts to address undernutrition, climate change impacts are not good for many people who will still be eating food 34 years from now, even those who are currently food- secure. Currently, farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers and fishermen are facing more challenges in producing and gathering food due to changing weather patterns.
Available forecasts show that climate change may contribute to about 24 million additional malnourished children by 2050 in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, FAO, 852 million persons are unable to obtain enough food to live healthy and productive lives. It is also common knowledge that, close to 2 billion people are malnourished and another 2 billion are overweight or obese. Unhealthy diets, causing chronic diseases from diabetes, heart disease to cancer have become the most important factor in global health, overtaking smoking or infectious diseases. Experts say all these challenges are severely exacerbated by the changing climate.
A recent study also showed that poor nutrition could be more hazardous to health than unsafe sex, alcohol dependence, drug abuse and tobacco use put together. According to experts, the effect of climate change on food security is one that must not be ignored and this may have explained the rationale why last World Food Day celebration was focused on the theme: ‘Climate is changing, Food and Agriculture must too.’ The day was apparently used to raise awareness on global fight against hunger and the new dimension climate change has added to it. Sadly, countries like Nigeria, where estimated 2.5 million children are suffering from Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM, and depend so much on imported foods, thereby losing about $22 billion annually on importation of food items may be worst hit by the effects of climate change. In the views of an Assistant Director, Dietetics, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Dr Obinna Ogbonna, climate change impacts people’s livelihoods and lifestyles through different pathways.
According to him, climate change may worsen the crisis of malnutrition and undernutrition already ravaging communities in Nigeria.
He said many families are already facing poor access to sufficient, safe and adequate food, feeding practices and environmental health as well as access to healthcare services. Ogbonna noted that when there is adverse climatic change, it will obviously affect production. Depending on the severity, the quality of the crops or fruits will be affected invariably. “For instance if there is draught, the crops will not be fully developed vis a vis the nutrient density will be low.
Invariably, the quality of such crop or fruit had been compromised. It can affect human health because you need the nutrients in quantitative and qualitative form for optimal nutritional status which translates to good health or healthy living,” he noted. Ogbonna explained that studies have shown that rising carbon dioxide emissions makes staple food crops less nutritious and worsening the serious ill health already suffered by thousands of malnourished people.
Also acknowledging that climate change is a threat to micronutrients in staple crops, he explained that researchers have found estimated that by the middle of this century the levels of essential micronutrients in cereal and leguminous crops will fall by between 7% and 10% caused by the higher carbon dioxide levels anticipated at this time. Ogbonna noted that in the study by Myers et al, reported in Nature, the researchers showed that protein levels were also reduced which would mean a substitution of dietary protein with carbohydrate with equally damaging consequences.
REASON TO CHECK CLIMATE CHANGE: Nigeria is no doubt vulnerable to the impact of climate change on many fronts, her geography, climate, vegetation, soils, economic structure, population, energy demands and agricultural activities.