Climate Change and India’s Nutritional Security
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 –
- the absence of adaptation strategies.
- the increasing ambient temperature in (sub)tropical areas
- tropospheric ozone
- 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.