8.2.3 Drought, nutrition and food security
The causal chains through which climate variability and extreme weather influence human nutrition are complex and involve different pathways (regional water scarcity, salinisation of agricultural lands, destruction of crops through flood events, disruption of food logistics through disasters, and increased burden of plant infectious diseases or pests) (see Chapter 5). Both acute and chronic nutritional problems are associated with climate variability and change. The effects of drought on health include deaths, malnutrition (undernutrition, protein-energy malnutrition and/or micronutrient deficiencies), infectious diseases and respiratory diseases (Menne and Bertollini, 2000).
Drought diminishes dietary diversity and reduces overall food consumption, and may therefore lead to micronutrient deficiencies. In Gujarat, India, during a drought in the year 2000, diets were found to be deficient in energy and several vitamins. In this population, serious effects of drought on anthropometric indices may have been prevented by public-health measures (Hari Kumar et al., 2005). A study in southern Africa suggests that HIV/AIDS amplifies the effect of drought on nutrition (Mason et al., 2005). Malnutrition increases the risk both of acquiring and of dying from an infectious disease. A study in Bangladesh found that drought and lack of food were associated with an increased risk of mortality from a diarrhoeal illness (Aziz et al., 1990).
Drought and the consequent loss of livelihoods is also a major trigger for population movements, particularly rural to urban migration. Population displacement can lead to increases in communicable diseases and poor nutritional status resulting from overcrowding, and a lack of safe water, food and shelter (Choudhury and Bhuiya, 1993; Menne and Bertollini, 2000; del Ninno and Lundberg, 2005). Recently, rural to urban migration has been implicated as a driver of HIV transmission (White, 2003; Coffee et al., 2005). Farmers in Australia also appear to be at increased risk of suicide during periods of drought (Nicholls et al., 2005). The range of health impacts associated with a drought event in Brazil are described in Box 8.3.
Box 8.3. Drought in the Amazon
In the dry season of 2005, an intense drought affected the western and central part of the Amazon region, especially Bolivia, Peru and Brazil. In Brazil alone, 280,000 to 300,000 people were affected (see, e.g., Folha, 2006; Socioambiental, 2006). The drought was unusual because it was not caused by an El Niño event, but was linked to a circulation pattern powered by warm seas in the Atlantic – the same phenomenon responsible for the intense Atlantic hurricane season (CPTEC, 2005). There were increased risks to health due to water scarcity, food shortages and smoke from forest fires. Most affected were rural dwellers and riverine traditional subsistence farmers with limited spare resources to mobilise in an emergency. The local and national governments in Brazil provided financial assistance for the provision of safe drinking water, food supplies, medicines and transportation to thousands of people isolated in their communities due to rivers drying up (World Bank, 2005).