Building Climate Resilience for Nutrition

April 22nd, 2022 | Viewpoint

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As climate challenges and crises increase, global systems must become more resilient to shocks and stressors. The UN warns that we are running out of time to mitigate and adapt to the worst consequences of climate change. Our understanding of the many effects across systems continues to deepen, notably the profound consequences of climate change on human health. Changes in climate patterns result in rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall patterns, and a shortage of clean water, and have a detrimental effect on people’s livelihoods and often lead to an increase in acute malnutrition, which multiplies pre-existing risks and contributes to poor health outcomes.

Changing Climate Impacts Malnutrition

Climate change has an immediate effect on household nutrition, as fluctuating climate patterns directly affect agriculture. The 2017 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report aptly explains the link between climate change and agriculture: “Climate change and variability affects temperature and precipitation, as well as frequency and severity of extreme weather events. Increases in temperature, heat waves, and droughts will impact agriculture, with the largest effects being decreased crop yields and livestock productivity, as well as declines in fisheries and agroforestry in areas already vulnerable to food insecurity.” Rising levels of carbon dioxide are also expected to diminish the nutrient profile of the staple crops that many rural households depend on.

Fanzo et al. describe three pathways through which changes in climate patterns affect malnutrition: 1) household food security; 2) environmental health and access to health services; and 3) child feeding and care practices. Access to affordable, nutritious foods, high-quality health care services, and sanitary living conditions will continue to decrease and likely worsen as the agriculture sector contends with changing climatic conditions.

Resilient Communities Can Mitigate Climate-driven Malnutrition

JSI leads USAID Advancing Nutrition, United States Agency for International Development’s flagship nutrition project, which works globally and in 12 countries to help governments foster resilient communities and mitigate malnutrition. In response to the increased vulnerabilities created by climate change, specifically changes in livelihoods, USAID is supporting activities worldwide to advance equity, enhance resilience, and improve food and nutrition security.

Nutrition Must be Part of the Climate Conversation

Climate change is a complex problem that, like malnutrition, requires multi-sectoral solutions. While the more tangible consequences of a warming world dominate the headlines, the less visible impact on nutrition must be part of the conversation because they will be felt most acutely by people in low-resource settings, who are already vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity. Furthermore, nutrition action can mitigate climate change in a number of ways:

  1. Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding can build resilience and self-reliance. Breastfeeding reduces emissions related to livestock care and milk production, farming, production of containers, transportation associated with distribution systems, and disposal of associated waste.
  2. Nutrition-sensitive agriculture practices produce more nutrient-rich food and can mitigate climate change through composting, less intensive agriculture that reduces use of heavy machinery, and integrated pest management that doesn’t require harmful chemicals produced through methods that release carbon into the atmosphere.
  3. Improved nutrition means healthier populations that need less from energy-intensive food and health systems.

Everyone has a role to play in transforming global systems to support families, communities, and countries so they are better able to respond to shocks and stressors brought on by climate change and ensure they are well-nourished, resilient, and able to thrive. Learn more about what USAID Advancing Nutrition is doing to build the resiliency of food systems and improve nutrition security around the world.

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