Nov 4, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Egypt faces food insecurity as it hosts climate summit

Illustration of a bowl and fork forming a "no" symbol

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Egypt is experiencing a climate-fueled food crisis as it prepares to host this year's UN climate summit starting Sunday.

The big picture: Rising food insecurity is poised to be front and center at COP27 — further underscoring the water issues and agricultural declines in the country that's hosting it.

Context: Warming temperatures and prolonged droughts are compounding with rising food prices to exacerbate existing levels of food insecurity in Egypt.

  • Experts warn of major agricultural impacts and a worsening water crisis if no climate adaptation measures are taken.
  • About a third of people in Egypt live below the global poverty line, according to the World Food Programme.

Zoom in: Climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine driving food and energy prices have caused a "major setback" in global poverty reduction, increasing the number of people experiencing food insecurity worldwide to 222 million, according to a UN report.

  • Poverty and severe droughts are driving "hunger hotspots" across the African continent, afflicting millions of people in countries in the Horn of Africa, which includes Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia and is facing its worst famine in decades.
  • "We're definitely concerned about the impacts of climate change on the availability of food or crop production across Africa," said Sonali McDermid, an associate professor of environmental studies at New York University who researches agriculture, food insecurity and climate change.

Yes, but: Climate isn't the only problem. Egypt's agriculture is impacted by pressure on water resources, including irrigation development around the Nile.

  • That development is threatened not only by rising sea levels or drought, but also by intensifying conflict between the neighboring countries that depend on it, as tensions simmer over Ethiopia building a mega-dam.
  • "Being able to ensure food security for everybody within a nation state has to consider more than just the climate impact alone," said McDermid. "You have to consider what the underlying vulnerabilities are."

What they're saying: Assem Mohamed, senior researcher at the Central Lab for Agricultural Climate at Egypt's Agricultural Research Centre, told Axios the impact of global warming on the country's agricultural systems is posed to be severe.

  • Earlier this year, the Egyptian government announced a state of "water poverty," with UNICEF predicting in 2021 that the country could run out of water by 2o25.
  • 85% of Egypt's share of the Nile, its key freshwater source, goes to its agricultural industry. "Water is the source for agriculture in Egypt," said Mohamed. "And we don't have this much amount of water."

Some activists criticized last year's COP26 summit for a lack of focus on food systems. That omission doesn't look likely for COP27, which has lined up several food-solutions pavilions, along with an expected focus on climate damages for developing countries.

  • Going into COP27, Egypt's water scarcity issues in particular are a priority for government officials. The country is seeking loss and damage financing from developed countries contributing the most to global emissions to help fund a $8.3 billion climate adaptation plan, as reported by Quartz.
  • On Monday, Bloomberg reported Egypt will get $2 billion in financing over the next eight years to help combat food insecurity, which will be targeted toward rural farmers, through the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development and other organizations.

The bottom line: "What the water shortage in Egypt means, for farmers, [is] they suffer from decrease of water and from the drought," Mohamed told Axios. "This is a big disaster."

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