Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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The consequences of chronic and episodic food insecurity in Africa are evident in the prevalence of hunger. Nearly 200 million people in Africa are undernourished. In central, eastern, and southern Africa, more than 40% of the population is undernourished, and the number has risen over the past few decades. SSA is home to almost one-quarter of the developing world's food-deprived people, with variations across the continent (FAO, 1999b). Although west Africa has the largest total population of any of the African subregions, it has the fewest undernourished people. By contrast, east Africa has more than twice as many undernourished people. According to anthropometric surveys made between 1987 and 1998, 33% of African children are stunted, underweight, or wasted (FAO, 1999b) (see Table 10-3). Illiteracy and ignorance, along with poor housing and infrastructure, are predisposing conditions to ill health in many countries, which impacts food security

Table 10-3: Undernourishment in Africa (FAO, 1999b).
  Number of People (millions) % of Population
Region 1996-1997 1979-1981 1995-1997

-Central Africa

35.6 36 48

-East and southern Africa

112.9 33.5 43

-West Africa

31.1 40 16

-West Africa

5.4 8 4
Other Regions      


9.3 19 31

-Central America

5.6 20 17

-South America

33.3 14 10

-Eastern Asia

176.8 29 14

-South Asia

283 38 23

-Southeast Asia

63.7 27 13

-Western Asia

27.5 10 12

-Indian Ocean

1.1 31 24

African food security and potential to adapt to climate change can be portrayed by using national indicators. Of course, local conditions of vulnerability are critical; aggregate indicators are only one way of illustrating the relative risks and potential impacts of climate change. Two indices are shown in Table 10-4. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite of measures of life expectancy, literacy, education, and income (GDP per capita), as promoted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Except for north Africa, African regions score in the lowest group on the HDI. Among other world regions, only Central America is in the lowest group. A similar index of food security has been constructed, using indices of trends in food production, available food as a percentage of requirements, and arable land per capita (see Downing, 1991); north Africa is in the medium-low group. Relative to other regions, Africa clearly is among the regions with the lowest food security and the lowest ability to adapt to future changes (as indicated by the HDI).

Table 10-4: Comparison of indices of human development and food security for regions in developing countries [Human Development Index (UNDP, 1998); data from WRI (1998) and UNDP (1998)].
Human Development
Food Security
Index (HDI) Low Med-Low Med-High High
Low West Africa      
  South Asia      
  East and South Africa      
  Central America      
  Central Africa      
Medium South Pacific Southeast Asia    
    North Africa    
High East Asia West Asia West Europe Australasia
  Caribbean South America Central and East Indian Ocean
    Central Asia Europe North America

The state of food security is not uniform, and there has been considerable progress in some countries (FAO, 1999b). For example, undernourishment in Ghana has decreased more rapidly than in any other country in the world, fueled by economic growth and consequent improvements in cropped area and yields. Plagued by population growth and conflict, Burundi is in stark contrast: Average daily food intake fell from 2,020 kcal in 1980 to 1,669 kcal in 1996.

The implications of this state of food insecurity in Africa for climate change are significant. The risks of adverse effects on agriculture, especially in semi-arid and subhumid regions and areas with more frequent and prolonged drought, become life-threatening risks. Internal coping mechanisms—through farm improvement, employment, and trade—are not likely to be adequate for many of the vulnerable populations. If food insecurity prevents private investment in agricultural economies (internal and from multinational corporations), resources for adapting to climate change may not keep pace with impacts. However, it also is clear that Africa has enormous resources—natural and human—that can be tapped to make rapid gains in food security and thus reduce the risk of adverse climate change.

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