Climate change could push millions into poverty, claims study

by Stephen Hurrell. Published Thu 20 Aug 2009 09:56, Last updated: 2009-08-20
Food crops could be hit by climate change

People living in urban areas in developing countries could be driven into poverty by climate change, a new study has shown.

Climate change can harm agricultural crops and drive up the price of food, according to researchers at Purdue University in India. People in urban areas in countries such as Mexico, Bangladesh and Zambia spend a high proportion of income on food and a rise in prices could push them into poverty.

The researchers examined 16 developing countries and the effects climate change would have on the populations. Data from the late 20th century and forecasts for the next 100 years were used to predict the severity of heat waves, drought and heavy rains attributed to climate change.

The forecasts, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), showed drought in the Mediterranean will increase by 800 percent and extreme rainfall in Southeast Asia could increase by up to 900 percent.

Large reductions in grains productivity due to extreme climate events are supported by historical data. In 1991 grains productivity in Malawi and Zambia declined by about 50 percent when southern Africa experienced a severe drought.

Noah Diffenbaugh, the associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and interim director of Purdue's Climate Change Research Center who co-led the study, said: “Studies have shown global warming will likely increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves, drought and floods in many areas.

“It is important to understand which socioeconomic groups and countries could see changes in poverty rates in order to make informed policy decisions.

"Extreme weather affects agricultural productivity and can raise the price of staple foods, such as grains, that are important to poor households in developing countries.”

The study found Bangladesh, Mexico and Zambia will suffer the most from an extreme drought, with up to 1.4 percent, 1.8 percent and 4.6 percent of the population being impoverished respectively. This would cause over 1.5 million people in Bangladesh and Mexico to drop below the poverty line.

Thomas Hertel, a distinguished professor of agricultural economics and co-leader of the study, said: "Food is a major expenditure for the poor and, while those who work in agriculture would have some benefit from higher grains prices, the urban poor would only get the negative effects.

"This is an important finding given that the United Nations projects a continuing shift in population concentrations from rural to urban areas in virtually all of these developing countries.

“With nearly one billion of the world's poor living on less than $1 a day, extreme events can have a devastating impact.”

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