Climate Change, Poverty, Economic Burden, Economic Development, Government Policy

Climate Change and Health, Part 2: Droughts, Food Insecurity and Culture

~Written by Joann Varickanickal (Contact:

In my last blog post, I highlighted how climate change has impacted the frequency, severity and onset of floods, thus, have various impacts on the health and well-being of flood victims. In this blog, I will be discussing how food security will be impacted by climate change.

Overall, an increase in temperature would lead to a decrease in nutrient acquisition in crops and could disturb general nutrient cycling (St.Clair & Lynch, 2010). This would also cause an increase in the decomposition of soil organic matter, thus, reducing the fertility of soil and possibly impacting crop nutrition (St.Clair & Lynch, 2010).

"Representation of the 11 Signs of Climate Change." Source: A Students Guide to Global Climate Change, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Borana, Ethiopia is one region where droughts have been severe (Megersa et al., 2013). In this area, cattle ownership not only provides milk, an important part of the diet, but also indicates attaining the socio-cultural status set by the community. With an increase in temperatures, rangelands in this area have dried up. As there is less land for grazing, there has been a great loss in the number of cattle, and a reduction of milk produced by surviving cattle. This has led to negative health consequences as stunting has become more prevalent among children (Megersa et al., 2013). There has also been an increase in physical ailments among adults (Megersa et al., 2013). With this, 77 percent of households have claimed to be food insecure for over five months per year (Megersa et al., 2013).

As revealed in the above example, issues of food security can be closely associated with cultural norms, as diet is often influenced by the local tradition. Thus, when there is a decrease in what is considered to be a staple-food in the region, a diversification in diet can help alleviate food insecurity (Megersa, Markemann, Angassa, & Valle Zárate, 2013). However, adapting to dietary changes can be a difficult process, especially when diets are so deeply rooted in traditions (St.Clair & Lynch, 2010). Cultural norms also influence how vulnerable populations are impacted by food insecurity. For example, issues of food insecurity related to climate often leads to more issues for women and children because they are already lower on the “food hierarchy” (Watts et al., 2015).

The recent article on climate change and health published by the Lancet discussed many potential options for adaption (Watts et al., 2015). For example, efforts should be made to improve ecosystem management (Watts et al., 2015). Investments should also be made in agricultural research in order to increase food security for the long-term (Watts et al., 2015). Furthermore, early warning systems and food reserves also need to increase in order to potentially avoid issues of nutritional deficiencies (Watts et al., 2015).

As often, this issue is complicated, and there are several questions that can be asked. For example, how can policies be formed to alleviate the impacts on the most vulnerable populations? Furthermore, should those in high-resourced countries be concerned about how those in low-resource regions could be impacted by an increase in droughts? Or even how those living in developed countries could also be impacted by these droughts? 
Or is the problem maybe too far from home to be a concern in the first place?

Megersa, B., Markemann, A., Angassa, A., & Valle Zárate, A. (2013). The role of livestock diversification in ensuring household food security under a changing climate in Borana, Ethiopia. Food Security, 6(1), 15–28. doi:10.1007/s12571-013-0314-4

St.Clair, S. B., & Lynch, J. P. (2010). The opening of Pandora’s Box: climate change impacts on soil fertility and crop nutrition in developing countries. Plant and Soil, 335(1-2), 101–115. doi:10.1007/s11104-010-0328-z

Watts, N., Adger, W. N., Agnolucci, P., Blackstock, J., Byass, P., Cai, W., … Costello, A. (2015). Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. The Lancet, 6736(15). doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6