It is a tragic fact that the global climate crisis and war have largely shaped the current global food shortage, leaving millions starving. To think there is enough food to feed all seven billion of us in the world, but dozens of countries suffer major food insecurity. It is truly jarring. The global imbalance is evident, and we witness it in our daily lives. On this side of the world, what we know as the developed world, we waste tons of food daily – resources that we could actually divert to places that are in dire need of food. In the United States itself, we waste 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food (USDA). The global imbalance tipped even more as Russia stopped a UN-brokered deal to allow grain shipments from Ukraine but later agreed to re-start shipments. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters and uncertainty of war has led to record prices.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN defines food security as a state or condition “when all people at all times have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO 1996, 2012). Out of the many countries with severe food insecurity, Yemen and Afghanistan are two prime examples of countries where food insecurity has been exacerbated by war and the global climate crisis. Famine is a difficult subject to talk about or even read about, but this crisis is important. Those who care can help raise awareness. Those in key positions to direct humanitarian aid will know that feminists want to see more emphasis on directing resources to the women and children who are the most disproportionately affected demographic.
Current data from the World Food Program depicts In Yemen, up to 19 million people are food insecure. More specifically, 3.5 million pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under five are suffering from acute malnutrition. In Afghanistan, out of 41.7 million people, 18.9 million face acute food insecurity and almost 6 million face emergency levels of food insecurity. To put in simpler terms, that is more than half (60% to be specific) of the Afghan and Yemeni population being impacted by war and the global climate crisis, which impacts basic needs for food and water. Most women prioritize the needs of their children and families, so even when they do have access to food, they are often the last ones to eat. A female refugee in the capital of Sana’a said “Most of the time, we only eat once a day. I don’t have fuel or firewood, so we burn plastic bottles and rubbish when we have something to cook” (UNHCR).
Health Risks and Disease
The lack of access to food and water creates the perfect environment for diseases to thrive. Yemen remains under threat of measles epidemic due to the large number of food insecure people. It is risky because malnourished children are “at risk of measles infection 24 times more than normal children alongside other health risks” (Nassar et al, 2018). Similarly in Afghanistan, people are at greater risk of contracting illnesses with weaker immune systems and a collapsing healthcare system. Famine also effects menstruation, as girls exposed to famine before their first periods are more likely to experience irregular cycles throughout their life and it impacts their reproductive abilities.
Meanwhile, the gender gap in food insecure individuals is large as “female -headed households are suffering disproportionate levels of hunger, with 99 percent now facing insufficient food consumption amid growing restrictions on women and girls” (WFP). Women have been sitting outside bakeries in the hopes of kind strangers buying bread for them in Kabul. An Afghan woman said “My daughters cry from hunger….I knock on the neighbors’ doors to ask for spare food. I ask the Taliban at the checkpoints if they have dry bread” (NPR). In both countries, food insecurity can also lead to social issues such as young women being forced off to marry just so their families have one less person to feed and in the hopes of them living a better life. It seems appalling that despite having enough food to feed the entire world, we are still living in times of great inequality and that people are forced to go through such measures to fulfill a basic necessity.
War in a Globalized World
The war that Russia has waged on Ukraine has also had an influence on global food insecurity, especially since the rise of fuel prices has increased food and transportation costs. In addition to that, Yemen “imports 40 percent of its wheat from Ukraine and Russia” so this led to the “disappearance of the wheat supply in the Yemeni markets, which resulted in the inability of families – and the displaced in particular – to purchase their needs of wheat and grain.” (Wilson Center). Although Afghanistan imports most of their food from Kazakhstan, the war has had ripple effects that have led to the stark rise in food costs. In addition to the Russia-Ukraine war having impacts on the food shortage, both countries have also been suffering from conflict for decades. Yemen has been embroiled in civil war between rebel groups and been on the receiving end of Saudi airstrikes since 2014. Similarly, in Afghanistan, the country has witnessed conflict for decades and it has gotten much worse since the Taliban takeover. During conflict, women are seen as the “spoils of war” and are at great risk of rape and sexual assault. During times of famine, young girls are often lured with the prospects of food and basic items.
Climate Change and Agriculture
This battle of food insecurity is made even worse because, aside from war and conflict, the global climate crisis has further aggravated food shortages. Yemen is currently at risk of “flooding, drought and heavy sandstorms” and this is worsened by “a surge in deforestation and desertification driven by the crisis” (OCHA). More than “75% of Yemen’s population live in rural settings and rely heavily on stable climate conditions to maintain their livelihood.”, The worsening climate crisis will only continue to damage these lands. Similarly, in a country like Afghanistan where the population depends on agriculture, droughts and increasing global temperatures have made it extremely difficult for farmers to cultivate crops and grow food. Yet, despite these challenges, the people suffering are extremely resilient and have continued to fight for their lives working hard to sustain themselves and their families. They simply need support.
What You Can Do
While the situation in both countries cannot be solved easily or within a short period of time, there are still things you can do to make your contribution. Here are some action steps you can take to combat the global food shortage every day:
- Research and donate to an organization of your choice that works in these countries to alleviate food insecurity. Here are some examples: (Please note that NOW does not endorse any of these organizations. If you would like to do further research on the organizations – https://www.guidestar.org)
- World Food Program (WFP)
- Baitulmaal and Mona
- Women for Afghan Women
- Islamic Relief
- Look for refugee populations in your hometown and connect them with employers
- If you’re still in school, look for internships or volunteer at organizations that work towards building systems towards development.
- Reach out to your state representative/ congress people and ask them to take action on global food shortages
- Watch the news and stay informed on the progression of food shortages and the impact they have on numerous communities
- Talk to your friends and family about the impact food shortages have globally and brainstorm what you can do locally – start a club, fundraise, research reliable charities, hold a rally and raise awareness! Be creative!
Pemma Lhazin, Digital Media Intern