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Climate Change and India's Nutritional Security

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March 09, 2019

What is the issue?

  • Climate change and global warming are increasingly posing risks to India's food and nutritional security.
  • This requires urgent prioritisation, strong political will and dedicated resources for sustainable and public health friendly measures.

What is the looming threat?

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared that human activities have led to a 1°C (0.8°C to 1.2°C) rise in temperatures above pre-industrial levels.
  • This will reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, if it continues to increase at the current rate.
  • The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) have risen to 410 parts per million (ppm) from about 280 ppm in pre-industrial times.
  • The World Health Organisation estimated that approximately 250,000 deaths annually between 2030 and 2050 could be due to climate change.
  • Several reports confirm that the poorest people, already suffering from the highest rates of under-nutrition, will be the most vulnerable to climate change.

How vulnerable is India?

  • Agriculture - Indian agriculture, and thereby India’s food production, is highly vulnerable to climate change.
  • This is largely because the sector continues to be highly sensitive to monsoon variability.
  • About 65% of India’s cropped area is rain-fed.
  • Nutrition - India already is one of the top rankers in multiple forms of malnutrition globally.
  • There are multiple reasons contributing to poor nutritional status of India's population.
  • They range from food scarcity to food excess (unhealthy), increased consumption of refined cereals, simple sugars and salt, etc.
  • However, adverse variables like climate change, pollution, etc, added to this scenario can further worsen the public health nutrition (PHN) indices.
  • With only about one in 10 children getting adequate nutrition, India at least ought to keep other potentially influential variables favourable.

How serious is nutrition and climate change link?

  • India already depends a lot on imports for fulfilling nutritional needs of the population.
  • With the ensuing climate change, the access to safe and nutritious food, and affordability, is bound to be impacted severely.
  • Under-nutrition (increased nutrient demands and reduced nutrient absorption) can be exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
  • Suboptimal diet (micronutrient deficiencies and overall poor nutritional status) during vulnerable stages (e.g. pregnancy lactation) may have adverse repercussions for several generations.
  • The onset of risk factors for non-communicable diseases (hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, etc) is faster and earlier in people with nutrient deficiencies.
  • The EAT-Lancet Commission’s food advisory recommends consumption of fruits and vegetables rather than meat for preserving own health and nature.
  • But evidently, environmental changes reduce yields of starchy staple crops and alter nutrient composition of fruits, vegetables and legumes.
  • This is a serious issue in a country like India with micronutrient and protein deficiency in more than half of its population.
  • Furthermore, various other factors negatively affect vegetable and legume yields, which are -
  1. the absence of adaptation strategies. 
  2. the increasing ambient temperature in (sub)tropical areas
  3. tropospheric ozone
  4. water salinity and decreasing water availability
  • Also, the increasing level of carbon dioxide is implicated in dilution effect” resulting in lesser vitamins and minerals per unit of yield.

What should be done?

  • Funding needs to be earmarked for designing, rolling out modern climate change-resistant infrastructure and technology.
  • Early warning systems are needed for farmers to produce sufficient food and traders to adequately store food in the face of extreme weather events.
  • More sustainable, resilient and efficient ways of producing, trading, distributing and consuming diversified agricultural food products should be adopted.
  • Involving food technologists to devise food storage and processing practices to reduce climate-related food safety concerns can help.
  • These strategies can also support reducing food waste.
  • Building and strengthening the capacity of public health professionals and allied forces, increasing the number of healthcare facilities/staff could help.
  • Academic and research ccapacity needs to be augmented.
  • drawing upon best practices from agriculture, public health, nutrition, transport and environment is essential to prepare Integrated curriculum qualified interdisciplinary workforce.
  • Investment in social protection schemes and livelihood security mechanisms can significantly tackle malnutrition and build resilience.
  • The cross-sectoral nature of nutrition, adverse impact of climate change, and the interaction between these two calls for increased policy coherence.
  • India’s recently launched National Nutrition Mission or the POSHAN Abhiyaan is an ideal way to start advocating for PHN in an environment-friendly manner.


Source: Financial Express



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