How bad is the food crisis going to get? In the last five years, there's been a four-fold increase in acute global hunger; in the last five months, 10 million have been pushed to the "edge of famine" and 400 million into "food insecurity." A thread (1/x)…
"They were calling it a crisis even before the war began: more than 800 million people in a state of chronic hunger."
"But, as you may have heard, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia — two countries that were estimated to produce enough food to feed 400 million, and to account for as much as 12 percent of all globally traded calories — has made the hardship considerably harder."
"A lot of that coverage looks comfortingly cold: charts of the prices of various staple commodities, all rising up and to the right, suggesting the crisis is just a form of inflation, though it is illuminating (given the U.S. inflation debate) that these spikes are so global."
"A closer look at the scale—cereals are up 69.5%, per Reuters, and oils, up 137.5%—suggests the effect might well be more significant, particularly if you know that more than 40 countries went through riots, political destabilization and outright war after a price spike in 2008."
"But one thing charts like these do not obviously signal is mass starvation. And yet, according to @WFPChief David Beasley, that is what they imply: the possibility that 323 million are 'marching toward starvation' as we speak, with 49 million 'literally at famine’s door.'"
@WFPChief "The job of an organization like the W.F.P. is not to predict what will happen but to warn about what is possible — and then try to avert it. (Like the media, perhaps, advocacy groups can exhibit what looks to some like a bad-news bias.)"
"This is the inherent reputational dilemma: Do what you can to alleviate the crisis, and the initial alarm seems foolish. But globally, Beasley estimates, the agency already feeds 125 million people a day."
"He is hoping to grow that number to 150 million this year. The gap between those two figures is 25 million hungry people."
"Before the war, 'I was already warning the world that 2022 and 2023 could be the worst two years in the humanitarian world since World War II,” Beasley says."
“I’m trying to tell everybody how bad it is — how bad it’s going to be. And then, the next week, I’m like, you know, wipe that clean — it’s worse than what I was saying.”
"That worsening is the result of the war, but the underlying crisis is both larger and more structural — in the W.F.P.’s estimation, at least, the bulk of growth in that 'acute food insecurity' category is the result of worsening conditions before the invasion."
This year, China has warned that its wheat crop may be its worst ever; in the U.S., it may be the worst since the 1960s. The South Asian heat wave has punished Indian wheat, France is desperate for rain, and the Horn of Africa is going through its worst drought in decades.
There have been additional significant climate impacts to agriculture this year in Pakistan, Italy, Canada, Syria, Jamaica, Brazil, among others... In fact, 60% of the recent food price spike predates the invasion of Ukraine.
"The war brought its own compounding effects: embargoes on Russian exports and a blockade closing off those from Ukraine, where farmers were also struggling to harvest and plant in the face of bombing..."
"...rising fuel costs adding considerably to the price of food by making it much more expensive to transport and driving dramatic spikes in the cost of fertilizer, much of it produced from gas..."
"...and export bans imposed by more than a dozen countries, worried about their own food security, which further strained the market." As grain stockpiles have dwindled in the rest of the world, China has loaded up:…
"Beasley believes that 2023 could take a still darker turn: a genuine supply crisis, in which food is pushed out of reach for many millions not just by price but by ongoing structural conditions, and the world could experience the once-unthinkable: a true shortfall of food."
"On this point, mercifully, most agricultural economists are somewhat more sanguine. They point out that most food is consumed domestically, not traded on international markets, which means that figures like '12 percent of globally traded calories' can be misleading."
"They are careful to draw distinctions between 'food insecurity,' 'hunger' and 'starvation,' which describe quite a wide range of human experience."
"In many places, they say, substitution is possible, even in the 36 countries that routinely import 50 percent or more of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. In those places where substitution isn’t possible, there is the last resort of food aid."
"But above all agricultural economists point out that, at baseline, there is no true global shortage, only that unassuming-sounding “price crisis.” The Ukraine conflict has brought about a widespread humanitarian catastrophe, they say, but it hasn’t meant a return to Malthus."
But "this is not cyclical, it is seismic,” says @SaraMenker, the Ethiopian founder of Gro Intelligence, who recently briefed the U.N. Security Council on the worsening crisis. As for the ultimate scale of the impact? “I think it’s gonna be as big as we make it.”
"In December, Gro calculated, there were 39 million people on the 'edge of famine'; 780 million in 'extreme poverty,' and 1.2 billion experiencing 'food insecurity.' Today, nearly six months later, the figures are 49 million, 1.1 billion and over 1.6 billion."
"Ten million more have moved to the edge of famine, and '400 million have become more food insecure around the world just in the last five months. That’s literally more people than the number of people that China has taken out of food insecurity over the last two decades.'”
"It is an astonishing calculation — two decades of improved food security by China often described as among the most miraculous humanitarian developments in human history, undone globally just since Christmas."
"'One remarkable fact in the terrible history of famine is that no substantial famine has ever occurred in a country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press,' Amartya Sen famously declared in 1998..."
" observation that, over the decades, has been transfigured into a more vernacular near-cliché: All famines are man-made."
"As an aphorism, this can sound comforting, almost like a declaration of victory over the forces of nature—or at least over the regular recurrence of mass starvation. And yet the story of even the last 15 years is not at all smooth sailing when it comes to food and hunger."
"In a provocative new book, 'Price Wars,' Rupert Russell traces the story through the commodity markets, noting that at no point during those years was there anything like a real calorie shortfall. And yet there were three dramatic food price crises: 2008, 2011 and now."
"Is this a food crisis in the sense that there isn’t enough food?” he asks me. “Or is it a market crisis in the sense that the market isn’t able to price the food correctly?”
"And while the price crisis today is not a pure invention of markets — Russell describes it to me as 'the return of the real,' since it does reflect the impact of the war, among other factors — it also tells us something about the proverb so often attributed to Sen."
"To say a catastrophe is not 'natural' but 'human' is not to say it is easily resolved. Or easily avoided. After all, here we are, dealing with the third such crisis in 15 years, with the number of the world’s hungry having grown fourfold in just the last five years."
"With truly global crises, the damages don’t have to reach all-encompassing levels to deliver devastating impacts. In the privileged corners of the global north, we can look at price spikes like these and think they are unfortunate but not fundamentally disruptive."
"We can tell ourselves that the prices reflect markets doing their work, which they do. But what work is that?"
"For many, paying half as much for milk again can seem like no big thing. But in that same fluctuation in the sticker price of your groceries we can see global hunger growing by the tens of millions. Possibly hundreds of millions."
"That should be alarming enough, even if the worst predictions are averted. That's what will qualify as success: hundreds of millions pushed into food insecurity in months, and many tens of millions pushed into acute hunger, but relatively few deaths from starvation."
"Perhaps even more alarmingly, whether we manage that 'success' remains very much to be seen." (x/x)…

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More from @dwallacewells

Jun 8
Yesterday I published a long piece taking stock of the global food crisis, which looks to be grim already and getting worse. But the crisis is not just a story of Ukraine and the last five months. It's also a story of 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, and 50 years. A thread (1/x)
First, the five month picture. Since the beginning of the year — in part because of the invasion of Ukraine, but also because of climate shocks and local conflict — the number of people living on the "edge of famine" have grown by ten million, from 39 million to 49 million.
The number of those living with "food insecurity" has grown by 400 million, according to @SaraMenker and @GroIntel, from 1.2 billion to 1.6 billion. In just months, as many people pushed into food insecurity as China pulled out of it through poverty reduction over decades.
Read 12 tweets
Jun 8
“If the Great Salt Lake, which has already shrunk by two-thirds, continues to dry up, here’s what’s in store…” (1/x)…
“The lake’s flies and brine shrimp would die off — scientists warn it could start as soon as this summer — threatening the 10 million migratory birds that stop at the lake annually to feed on the tiny creatures.”
“Ski conditions at the resorts above Salt Lake City, a vital source of revenue, would deteriorate. The lucrative extraction of magnesium and other minerals from the lake could stop.”
Read 4 tweets
Jun 1
"Panic is never a good public health strategy, but in attempting to preemptively tamp down public fear, I think experts are failing to learn one of the most important lessons of Covid-19: that we’re too afraid of 'alarmism' when outbreaks hit..." (1/x)…
"...and should spend less time telling people not to overreact and more time telling them what’s actually going on."
"The impulse on the part of the public health community to try to manage public emotion — rather than provide the public with facts — has dogged us throughout the pandemic, often making it harder to make good decisions."
Read 9 tweets
Jun 1
The war in Ukraine is barely three months old—a war many thought would never actually happen, then, once it began, that it would be over very quickly. Instead, with gas cut-offs and oil embargoes, a new energy front is opening—or expanding. (1/x)…
“Almost as soon as the war began, in February, I found myself returning to an essay published in November by @JasonBordoff and @OSullivanMeghan, predicting that decarbonization, while necessary, will not be a glide path to a peaceful green future.”…
“To me, it also suggested one way of understanding Russia’s invasion: an autocratic leader of a petrostate facing long-term decline but enjoying short-term strength and choosing to push his advantage while he still enjoyed it.”
Read 7 tweets
May 24
“What I fear — and, alas, expect — is that for years, maybe even decades, to come we’ll avoid the worst-case scenarios for climate disaster.” @paulkrugman on the new world (1/x)…
“Famines may kill millions, but not tens of millions, because food will be rushed in when crops fail. Incidents in which wet-bulb temperatures, a measure of heat and humidity combined, pass the limits of human endurance will remain rare for a while.”
“Residents of cities swamped by storm surges will be rescued. Thanks to human ingenuity, we’ll cope — until we can’t, because the scope of the crisis will exceed even modern society’s ability to adapt.”
Read 4 tweets
May 24
In the wealthy west, we have the vaccines. But 2.8 billion are awaiting first doses, making 2021 actually a deadlier year than 2020–death concentrated in the poorer half of the planet. I wrote about what “vaccine apartheid” portends for climate. (1/x)…
“In May 2021, the IMF calculated that the full cost of vaccinating the large majority of the world’s vulnerable people would be $50 billion — just 1% of the money spent by Congress on pandemic relief and only about half of the money the US has spent on fighting AIDS abroad.”
“The I.M.F. called this ‘A Proposal to End the Covid-19 Pandemic’ and meant it. The organization suggested the global payback for that $50 billion program, by 2025, would be $9 trillion — nearly a 200-fold return — in just four years.”
Read 27 tweets

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