Gernot Laganda is the Head of Climate Risk and impact prevention at the World Food Programme. After steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger is on the rise again, affecting 815 million people in 2016, or 11 per cent of the global population. The increase of 38 million more hungry people than in the previous year is largely due to the proliferation of violent conflict and climate-related shocks. In 2017 alone, WFP has provided food assistance to more than 9 million people suffering from hunger after extreme weather events. With more than 80 percent of the hungry living in countries that are highly prone to climate-related hazards and disasters, the organization is faced with an ever-growing number of humanitarian needs.
Nick Breeze: Food insecurity has dramatically risen again in the last year. Can you give me the estimated figure and your perspective on what is driving this increase in hunger?
Gernot Laganda: The figure globally is between 10 and 20 percent higher risk of food insecurity as a result of changing climate. Obviously, the context is very different from country to country. We have certain hot spots in the world like sub Saharan Africa, like south and south east Asia where we see a particularly vicious interplay between longer dry periods, stronger droughts and more intense rainfall, which then accelerates trends of erosion and problems with land use.
Nick Breeze: So it is very easily identifiable as a climate impact?
Gernot Laganda: That’s right. There is agriculture… for people working in agriculture are very dependent on climate sensitive natural resources. So there is direct impact on their livelihoods.
Nick Breeze: With 815 million people going hungry in the world today, what has been the action taken by the World Food Programme to alleviate this suffering?
The World Food Programme is first and foremost a humanitarian organisation. So we are confronted with a growing number of people who are requiring food assistance in the wake of extreme weather events: floods, droughts and storms.
So we are very concerned about the fact that we have growing humanitarian needs but less predictable financing to work on prevention, risk reduction and climate change adaptation. This is one of the reasons why we are here at the climate change conference in Bonn.
Nick Breeze: What is your objective here at the COP?
Gernot Laganda: We are here to make the case that food security and climate issues are interrelated. So when we have sustainable development goals like SDG 2, which is zero hunger by 2030, we are not going to achieve it if we do not scale up our engagement on disaster risk reduction prevention and climate risk management.
Nick Breeze: Are you looking at preventative measure to reduce risk of regional hunger crisis? What does a risk management solution look like?
Gernot Laganda: Risk management needs to be approached in an integrated manner. So we usually as humanitarians, we are used to getting people throughout, what we call, the lean season. So if there is a problem with food security in a particularly dry period, for example, we provide food assistance, to get people through that.
However, this is not a sustainable solution. We have to go back a year later, or even the year after, if the current patterns of climate risk continue to evolve like they are.
So we need to have a much longer planning horizon and we need to build much more resilient food systems. And this starts basically from the level of production where we need to diversify crop varieties for example. We need to introduce drought resistant varieties for maize but all go into processing, storage, transport. All these stages in food systems are affected by climate impacts.
Nick Breeze: So it is a complex integrated response. How do you see climate impacts, conflict and hunger trends intersecting?
Gernot Laganda: This is, I think, a big discussion here at the climate change conference in Bonn and I think rightly so. We see a particularly complex vicious interplay between people who are caught in climate risk hotspots and get affected by droughts, floods and storms on a regular basis and political instability.
So we have recently published, together with other Rome based agencies, a report on the ‘Status of Food Insecurity 2017’ which showed that in the most unstable and fragile context in the countries that we are working in, we have around 52 million people who are affected by extreme weather events.
These are the people who live in politically very volatile conflict-ridden regions and at the same time are affected by extreme weather events. This is a very toxic mix of reasons.
Nick Breeze: If we start to see a rise in the number of those facing hunger, what is the strategy to radically scale up from the 9million currently assisted by the WTF to meet a billion + figure?
Gernot Laganda: One of the pathways to get us to a greater scale of reaching people who are affected by extreme weather events and also reduce the number of people who require humanitarian assistance after extreme weather events, is certainly early action after we see certain trigger signals, certain thresholds, certain meteorological thresholds are crossed.
On the one side, this is important to increase our readiness to respond. To get the trucks ready, to have early procurement of foodstuffs so that we can be very efficient in the delivery of aid. But then we also need to draw the arc to community-level prevention activities. Basically getting things out of harm’s way, livestock out of harm’s way, harvests out of harm’s way, so that not as many people require food assistance as in the past.
This is basically a change in the way our programmes need to be designed so that readiness needs to be connected with prevention at a community level, much stronger than at the moment.
Nick Breeze: You mentioned that when you get a trigger point… what if you get several trigger points, how big is your organisation and how ready are youth to respond right now?
Gernot Laganda: The key thing is to have these trigger points, not only for our own operations but have the government in the boat. So government institutions, government systems need to be able to work with these trigger thresholds.
So there is a process whereby we engage with governments in vulnerable regions of the world and try to build these systems together with them. For example, in the Philippines, in Ethiopia, in Zimbabwe, we have a very very close dialogue with governments about these systems, so that when trigger thresholds, like a certain degree of temperature, a certain temperature peak, or a certain flood warning, when these are met, then the machine kicks into gear.
Not only in terms of being ready for impact but also in terms of early action at a community level.
Nick Breeze: What is the main message you are bringing to the COP?
Gernot Laganda: One of the main messages is that climate drives hunger. If we want to achieve the sustainable development goals. If we want to have a zero hunger by 2030 there is no way around investing more and longer-term in climate risk management and climate change adaptation and community-level prevention. This is a key aspect of our work.
We reckon that around 26 million people each year fall back into poverty as a result of extreme weather events. So no matter how successful we are at getting over hunger peaks each year, we lose 26 million people. Zero hunger will not be able to be achieved if we do not invest more in predicting and prevention.
Nick Beeze: So could the 26 million figure itself increase and add more pressure?
Gernot Laganda: That could increase. That number is obviously not only affected by climate, there is, as you say, this interplay with conflict issue too. These things aggravate each other, they compound each other. So 26 million is a conservative estimate.
Gerona Laganda is the Head of the Climate Risk and Prevention Department of the World Food Programme, the largest humanitarian agency in the world.
New WFP report, ‘How climate change drives hunger’: https://goo.gl/WA8GTj