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In advance of the G8 Summit in Italy, Oxfam has released a new paper suggesting that hunger will become the defining issue of this century, and that climate change is to blame. The report, called Suffering the Science: Climate Change, People, and Poverty (PDF) argues that hundreds of millions of farmers are now struggling to grow food, and that drought, heat waves, and uncertain rainfall patterns threaten to make hunger and malnutrition common throughout the world’s most vulnerable regions. Centuries of farming and traditional methods are no longer working in a warming world.

The Oxfam International study is comprehensive, but it particularly focuses on the toll that climate change will take on humanity. Staple crops will be among the hardest hit by changing weather patterns and drought, and the implications are devastating. “Climate change’s most savage impact on humanity in the near future is likely to be in the increase in hunger … the countries with existing problems in feeding their people are those most at risk… Millions of farmers will have to give up traditional crops as they experience changes in the seasons that they and their ancestors have depended on. Climate-related hunger [may become] the defining human tragedy of this century.”

In creating this report, Oxfam staff in 15 countries collected records from communities at risk. While their comments are anecdotal, they jibe with information and statistics coming from the scientific community. Among the observations included in the Oxfam report:

  • Seasons appear to have shifted, with rainy seasons coming at awkward times for agriculture
  • Rainfall is more unpredictable, tending to be harder and shorter in duration.
  • Winds and storms are felt to have increased in strength.
  • Unseasonal events such as storms, dense fogs and heavier rains are more common.

    But the report is about more than farming and food. It also speaks to water shortages, the spread of disease, and increasing incidence of violent storms due to a warming planet.
    The report ends with a dire warning that an entire century of developmental advances in the poorest countries will be wiped out with rising temperatures over the next few decades.

    “Climate change is happening today,” says Oxfam Director Jeremy Hobbs, “and the world’s poorest people, who already face a daily struggle to survive, are being hit hardest.”

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    Note: The photo comes from the Oxfam report, copyright EPA/Francis R.Malsaig.

    Filipino children are wading through flood waters during heavy rains during Typhoon Fengshen. Recent scientific studies suggest that climate change is making tropical storms more severe, and increasing the frequency of cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes.

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