A quarter of the world's population on brink of triple crisis warns ActionAid

As the global population hits 7 billion this month, ActionAid has today warned that a triple crisis of climate change, depleted natural resources and rocketing food prices, could dwarf the world’s ability to feed them all. 

Based on new research in 28 poor countries, ActionAid’s report On the Brink: Who's best prepared for a climate and hunger crisis? reveals which poor nations are most prepared for this triple crisis and which are perilously close to the brink. The 10 countries ranked most vulnerable – DRC, Burundi, South Africa, Haiti, Bangladesh, Zambia, India, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Rwanda - account for nearly a quarter of the world’s population. 

Countries most ready to face the triple crisis include Brazil, Malawi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. 

ActionAid warns that the world is coming to the end of an era of cheap food; that large scale agriculture has depleted the natural resources that sustained it; and that food prices - driven by rich nations’ insatiable demand for biofuel and food commodities - will continue to rise, unless urgent action is taken.

ActionAid’s Chief Executive Joanna Kerr said:

“Children born at the end of this month will join millions facing a unique ‘trilemma’, never before witnessed in history. 

“How sustainable our expanding population is will depend entirely on how we tackle the interlocking crisis of climate change, dwindling resources and rocketing food prices.

“This year’s famine in East Africa was a harrowing example of how overexploited ecosystems, erratic weather and soaring food prices when left unchecked have catastrophic consequences for poor people. 

“We urge world leaders meeting at the G20 next month to scale up investment in women and small farms in poor countries, deliver the climate cash promised to help poor people adapt to climate change and eliminate the biofuel targets that are driving land grabs in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

“With 78 million more children to feed each year by 2050, there is not a minute to lose.”

ActionAid’s key findings reveal that: 

  • At least 10 countries, accounting for more than 1.5 billion of the world's population, are highly vulnerable to a climate-related food crisis.  Overall, climate change could add another half a billion people to those facing chronic hunger around the world by 2050. Every rural community surveyed across Africa, Asia and the Americas said that erratic and extreme weather was crippling their ability to feed themselves.
  • Unsustainable farming practices and an unprecedented rush from foreign investors to control resources such as minerals, oil, biofuel and water, could leave millions of the poorest people without enough arable land to produce food. In Africa alone, over 6 million hectares of degraded farmland must be regenerated to meet the demand for food from a population set to double by 2050.  
  • A dangerous new era of high food prices is set to push 44 million more people into poverty. The demand for biofuel – produced from wheat, corn, soybean and sugarcane - means that food prices will keep rising unless rich countries find alternative sources of energy.

Brazil scored top of ActionAid’s preparedness survey by announcing US$10 billion to support small scale farms, enshrining the right to food in its constitution and making national plans to climate proof its agriculture.  Rwanda has set an ambitious 25 year plan to reverse land and forest degradation.  And Malawi is promoting organic fertilisers, building up a nation-wide system of food reserves and drafting a national adaptation plan to help rural communities cope with climate shocks.

ActionAid urges world leaders meeting at next month’s G20 to put the triple crisis at the top of the agenda. It is calling for: greater investment in small farms in poor countries where the majority of poor people’s food is grown; immediate delivery of the climate cash needed to help poor farmers climate-proof their agriculture; binding cuts in rich countries’ carbon emissions; the creation of a system of pan-regional food reserves and the immediate elimination of biofuel targets that are driving land grabs in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Editors' notes

Click here to download the report: On the Brink: Who's best prepared for a climate and hunger crisis?

Which countries are most vulnerable to a triple crisis?

From most to least vulnerable: Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Africa, Haiti, Bangladesh, Zambia, India, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Liberia, Tanzania, Guatemala, Nepal, Pakistan, Mozambique, Cambodia, Lesotho, Vietnam, Kenya, Malawi, China, Brazil, Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal, The Gambia,Ghana.

Which countries are most prepared for the triple crisis?

From most to least prepared: Brazil, Malawi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nepal, Uganda, Bangladesh, Haiti, South Africa, China, Lesotho, Zambia, Burundi, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, India, Mozambique, Nigeria, Guatemala, Vietnam, The Gambia, Kenya, Cambodia, Senegal, DRC, Pakistan.

How did ActionAid carry out its research?:

ActionAid’s report surveys 28 developing countries. We examined the record of these countries in two core areas: overall vulnerability to the climate/hunger crunch, and key policy measures that can reduce vulnerability. These are measured by our vulnerability and capacity /preparedness indicators (see tables 1and 2 in the report). This enables us to determine the most appropriate strategies for tackling hunger and pinpoint the areas that will need the most attention – now and in the future.

The scorecard vulnerability index assesses countries’ vulnerability to increasing hunger in the face of climate change. It uses current hunger levels and child malnutrition rates to assess underlying food insecurity. It then looks at pre-existing environmental and land degradation as a simple proxy for likely vulnerabilities of the agricultural sector in the present and in the future.

Our capacity and preparedness index gauges policy interventions that can mitigate hunger and climate risks, such as increased support for agriculture, rural development and smallholder farmers, while also assessing countries’ plans to adapt their agricultural sectors to increasing pressures from climate change.