How Climate Shock May Affect People Prone To Food Shortages; Strategies For Disaster Management

By Ajit Jha on February 16, 2014 4:07 PM EST

drought
People who live in areas prone to food shortages may be more at risk of getting them due to climate change. Now, researchers are developing strategies for preventing these disasters. (Photo: Bert Kaufmann, CC BY 2.0)

How does climate shock impact people with pre-existing vulnerabilities? This is precisely the issue being investigated by an international team including four Arizona State University archaeologists. The team is investigating the way people can remain resilient against food insecurity during climate change, which can disrupt their access.

The United Nations defines food security as happening when all people have both physical and economic access to the basic food needed by them at all times. Climate change might impact food security in several ways including but not limited to food production, changes in food prices, and markets & supply chain infrastructure, leading to long- or short-term shocks, and making people vulnerable in the process.

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The scientists found a strong correlation between climate shock and food shortage. It is not the actual experience of food shortage, but the pre-existing vulnerability to food shortages that cause greater impact from climate shock, the researchers said.

The scientists used centuries-worth of data on evolving socio-political and economic circumstances, as well as climate data to arrive at their conclusion. The data was sourced from the Southwest U.S. and the North Atlantic Islands. The global scope of the study in combination with the extended timeframe enabled the scientists to focus on climate challenges and vulnerabilities on a wide scale. "The pattern is so consistent across different regions of the world experiencing substantially different climate shocks, that the role of vulnerability cannot be ignored," said Margaret Nelson, an ASU President's Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, in a statement.

The study highlights the urgency of focusing on vulnerabilities long before shocks happen - usually in disaster management efforts. Most disaster management, however, focuses on bringing the system back to pre-disaster conditions. The study, therefore, strongly argues the need to boost resiliency against climate shocks in order to reduce vulnerabilities. In turn, recovery efforts won't be as urgent when actual crises occur, Nelson said.  

"Exposures to climate challenges and other environmental risks are not the sole causes of disasters," she said in the statement. "People have unintentionally built vulnerabilities through decisions and actions in social, political, and economic realms."

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