By Annisa Essack
Recent analysis shows that people living in poor countries have poor diets which account for one in five deaths globally. However, their diets are not a matter of choice. Most people in lower-income countries face cost factors when making food choices. Whilst wealthier people have diets rich in sugars, fats and red meats that increase their risk of diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, the diets of poorer people lack nutrients which would provide the nourishment needed for the body to thrive.
This means that higher-income groups with poor diets kill people later in life and the opposite is then true for the poor who risk dying in early childhood and also suffer from various nutritional disorders and slower cognitive development.
We tend to think of food crises as something that affects only the very poor or developing countries. But, the stark reality is that there is a more serious issue at hand which could have dire consequences for people, rich and poor.
Julian Cribb, award-winning Australian journalist points out that the world, at any one time, has only three months supply of grain in store as its food systems are coming under constant strain due to climate change, water scarcity and soil and biodiversity loss. Should the harvests fail in major grain-growing regions, prices of grain and its products would spike.
Cribb has identified seven “powder kegs” at risk in the next 50 years. South Asia tops the list with African and China following closely behind. Both China and South Asia are facing critical water shortages that could lead to battles, Africa is already breaking out in such conflicts over water and grazing rights.
According to Cribbs, America will need more than 6000 years to replace the groundwater taken out over the last 150 years. Even with their advanced technologies and solutions, water management has not been managed as well as it should be, making them vulnerable as any other country to groundwater shortages.
The conflict won’t be traditional but rather the confrontation will take on many forms, physical to legal and will affect governments, industries and neighbours.
As farming consumes freshwater, depletes fossil fuels and depends on pesticides, Cribb has called for an overhaul of global food production to avoid disputes over thriving resources. He advocates a new system that is climate-resilient, environmentally friendly, nourishing and affordable.
He proposes three options: farming methods that repair natural resources, deep-ocean aquaculture that avoids pollution and disease and the recycling of urban water and nutrients. As humans continue to devour fertile soil and water at break-neck speed, understand that there is no time to lose.
As Cribb aptly puts it: “The most destructive object on the planet . . . is the human jawbone.”