Climate change: A human security threat

Climate change causes significant uncertainty in the agriculture sector.

IN this modern-day world, countries face security threats not only from deliberate human agents seeking to cause damage, but also from formless agents, such as climate change and pandemics, which have equally grave consequences.

Climate change is the most recent factor that has been regarded as a cause of human insecurity.

It is sometimes described as a threat multiplier as it affects many human life facets and worsens existing human security issues in many countries.

Human security refers to the state of being, free from persistent dangers, such as starvation, illness, and oppression.

This also includes being safeguarded against unexpected and detrimental disturbances in one's daily routines, whether at personal residences, workplaces, or in communities.

The impact of climate change on human security is severe in developing countries, which have not contributed much to the phenomenon, compared to developed countries.

Climate change poses a threat to human security in six main ways, especially to the populace in developing countries.

Heightening scarcity of resources

As global temperatures rise and climate change intensifies, there is a notable increase in the duration and severity of droughts, soil erosion, depletion of grazing grounds, and a decline in crop production.

The availability of water and other natural resources is increasingly becoming more limited as witnessed by the depletion of reservoirs, wells, and lakes. This  therefore, impedes people's access to water.

As water and  supplies of other natural resources become strained, there will be a rise in demand for water in various geographical regions and economic sectors, including in residential, agricultural, and industrial areas. This can lead to tensions and wars, which further worsen human insecurity.

Food insecurity and hunger

Climate change devastates agriculture, resulting in the decline of food production and economic activities for people. Zimbabwe is facing the imminent threat of El Niño, which is causing significant uncertainty in its agriculture sector.

According to government forecasts, there is expected to be a significant decrease of 16 percentage points in the sector. This will result in a negative growth rate of -4,9% for the year, which could put national food production and food security at risk.

The livestock industry has had a direct impact from heat stress and an indirect one from a reduction of available pasture and water, as well as the emergence of diseases and pests, resulting from climatic unpredictability. 

Low food production due to climate change is associated with rising food costs and widespread hunger, coupled with pre-existing disparities and marginalisation in society. These have the potential to disturb daily routines, exacerbating food and human insecurity.

Increased displacement, migration

Presently, the globe is facing the most severe refugee and migrant crisis since World War II. Annually, over 20 million people are forced to evacuate their residences and relocate as a result of threats posed by climate change.

Simultaneously, nations throughout the globe are tightening their border controls in the name of nationalism, rejecting the most vulnerable individuals worldwide and contributing to the formation of a widespread global underprivileged refugee population.

It is important to note that most population displacements caused by climate change and natural disasters mainly occur inside national borders, rather than beyond international boundaries. It is more transient than permanent.

Latin America, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa are very susceptible to the impacts of climate change and experience significant rises in both domestic and international migration as a consequence.

The Muzarabani floods of 2007 and Cyclone Idai, which resulted in the displacement of many people, are a stark reminder of how climate change negatively impacts human security in the country.

Exacerbating gender inequalities

Women and girls are particularly susceptible to increased human insecurity caused by climate change due to pre-existing inequalities, gender-related roles and expectations, and uneven access to resources.

This is particularly accurate in several regions of the globe where women depend on climate-sensitive occupations, such as agriculture and physical labour for their livelihood.

The unpaid care duties of women impede their involvement in decision-making and limit their capacity for climate leadership.

 Globally, women are responsible for over 75% of unpaid care labour, which is 3,2 times more than the amount carried out by males.

During climate-induced catastrophes, the care burden placed on women grows as they assume additional responsibilities to aid in the recovery and reconstruction of their households and communities.

Climate-induced stresses can also affect women and girls' ability to access education and participate in the job market.

This might result in their having to spend more time on home tasks, which in turn perpetuates a cycle of disempowerment.

Aggravating poverty, inequalities

According to a study by the World Bank, climate change might result in an increase of 68 million to 135 million people falling into poverty by the year 2030.

The impact of climate change is, particularly, severe on individuals, who are economically disadvantaged and have less resources to adapt and cope with its effects.

In the most developing nations like Zimbabwe, a significant portion of the population relies heavily on sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, and fishing, which are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Apart from increasing poverty, climate-induced catastrophes including droughts and floods force poor and less resourced people to sell their property or cattle at undervalued prices, thereby shifting wealth from the poor to the affluent, widening income inequalities.

Worsening health outcomes

 Climate change poses a significant threat to human health. From 2030 to 2050, it is projected that climate change would result in around 250 000 more fatalities annually, due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, heat stress and mental health problems.

Although climate change can have various effects on human health, the level of risk varies, among individuals. Some demographic groups, such as the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions, are more susceptible to the effects of climate change. Furthermore, climate change may have a disproportionate impact on low-income communities and indigenous people due to their restricted healthcare access and heightened exposure to climate change risks.

Way forward

The magnitude and severity of climate change on human security is contingent upon the level of climate financing.

Although the urgency and magnitude of necessary adaptation activities will be reduced if proactive mitigation measures are implemented early, a certain level of adaptation financing is unavoidable.

However, the current level of climate financing is inadequate to ensure that developing countries in Africa comprehensively adapt and mitigate the debilitating effects of climate change despite these countries contributing less than 5% of carbon emissions. The current global financial architecture needs to be reformed so that developed countries meet their obligation of adequately providing climate finance to support climate action by developing countries.

Adequate climate financing is a critical pillar of ensuring preservation of human security, especially in developing countries like Zimbabwe which are vulnerable to climate change risks.

  • Banda is a well-being economist and policy analyst. These weekly New Perspectives  articles, published in the  Zimbabwe Independent, are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge,  an independent consultant, managing consultant of Zawale Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Chartered Governance & Accountancy Institute in Zimbabwe (CGI Zimbabwe). — [email protected] or mobile: +263 772 382 852

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