Climate set to worsen food crisis: Oxfam

In 2010, a heatwave in Russia and Ukraine sparked a rise of 60 to 80% cent in global wheat prices.

Last Updated: Nov 28, 2011, 09:54 AM IST

Durban: Storms and drought that have
unleashed dangerous surges in food prices could be a "grim
foretaste" of what lies ahead when climate change bites more
deeply, Oxfam said today.

In a report issued at the start of the UN climate talks
here, the British charity pointed to spikes in wheat, corn and
sorghum, triggered by extreme weather, that had driven tens of
millions into poverty over the past 18 months.

"This will only get worse as climate change gathers pace
and agriculture feels the heat," said Oxfam`s Kelly Dent.

"When a weather event drives local or regional price
spikes, poor people often face a double shock.

"They have to cope with higher food prices at a time when
extreme weather may have also killed their livestock,
destroyed their home or farm."

In 2010, a heatwave in Russia and Ukraine sparked a rise
of 60 to 80 per cent in global wheat prices in three months,
reaching 85 per cent in April 2011, Oxfam said.

In July 2011, the price of sorghum was 393 per cent
higher in Somalia, while corn (maize) in Ethiopia and Kenya
was up to 191 and 161 per cent higher respectively compared to
the five-year average, reflecting the impact of drought in the
Horn of Africa.

Rainstorms and typhoons in Southeast Asia, meanwhile,
have driven up the price of rice in Thailand and Vietnam. In
September and October, the cost of this staple was 25-30 per
cent higher there than a year earlier.

In February, the World Bank estimated that 44 million
people in developing economies had fallen into extreme poverty
as a result of spiralling food prices.

In the November issue of its "Food Price Watch" report,
the Bank said that a global index of food prices peaked in
February but had dipped by five per cent since then.

Even so, the index was still 19 per cent higher than in
September 2010, although the figure varied greatly according
to the country and the commodity, it said.

Oxfam said price hikes were a source of despair for the
needy.

"For the poorest who spend up to 75 per cent of their
income on food, price rises on this scale can have
consequences as families are forced into impossible trade-offs
in a desperate bid to feed themselves," it said.

It pointed to a just-published investigation by the UN`s
panel of climate scientists, which said man-made global
warming had already boosted heatwaves and flood-provoking
rainfall and was likely to contribute to future disasters.

"More frequent and extreme weather events will compound
things further, creating shortages, destabilising markets and
precipitating price spikes, which will be felt on top of the
structural price rises predicted by the models," Oxfam said.

PTI