When Hurricane Harvey struck Texas’s Gulf Coast, tens of thousands of homes where either damaged or destroyed and over 1 million people were displaced. In Beaumont, 118,000 were left without drinking water after floods disabled the city’s system. While officials are still struggling to restore water supplies, families are struggling to access other essentials, including food.
Hunger is a familiar physical feeling, but can be difficult to measure in a large population. Food insecurity offers an accepted method for measuring food deprivation. The USDA defines food insecurity as a state in which “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” By contrast, food security can be defined as all people at all times having access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Typically, food security encompasses both physical and economic access to food that meets people’s dietary needs as well as their food preferences.
In the Unites States, the prevalence of food security has long varied from State to State. Estimated prevalence of food insecurity in 2013-15 ranged from 8.5 percent in North Dakota to 20.8 percent in Mississippi. According to the latest USDA report for Household Food Security, even before Hurricane Harvey stuck, 1.5 million Texas households were food insecure, more than any other state except California.
Overall, global food insecurity is trending downward. In fact, there has been a consistent decline in food insecurity (including low and very low food security) since its peak of 14.9 percent in 2011. In 2015 (the latest USDA report for Household Food Security), an estimated 12.7 percent of American households experienced food insecurity. That is down from 14.0 percent in 2014.
Today, farmers are able to grow enough food for all people on Earth to have the nourishment to lead healthy, active lives. But how is it that still, almost 10% of people on Earth are fighting the battle against hunger?
Food insecurity can occur due to a multitude of factors. Sometimes, people go hungry when there is enough food to go around but it is not distributed equally. This situation can occur due to issues such as poverty, discrimination, corrupt governances, and civil war. In some cases, even if food is available, people do not have the money to buy it. In other cases, a specific ethnic group may be prohibited from accessing food. Sometimes governments in poor countries export the food they grow in order to pay debts to other countries instead of using it to feed their own people. In other instances, unsustainable farming practices can cause a reduction in soil fertility, inhibiting a farm from producing enough food. Water and land factor conditions can also have a major impact on food security. For example, regions of eastern Africa and the Middle East contain a significant amount of arid, very dry land, prone to prolonged droughts, making it nearly impossible to farm. Other geographic constraints might arise from loss of farmland due to urban growth, industry, or a natural disaster or human-caused environmental disturbance.
Reasons for water scarcity are similar, as the two issues are often related, but factor conditions, or geographic predispositions are often at the root of the problem. Water is not evenly distributed. Rain and snow fall in some places on earth and not others. Mountainous areas form watersheds which determine where rainwater and snowmelt run, and as a result, many arid regions frequently face drought conditions. Additionally, in many areas, people use water faster than it can be replenished by the water cycle. Another threat to water supplies is climate change, which is expected to impact rainfall, snowfall, and weather temperature patterns. The intensity of droughts and floods is also predicted to increase.
For centuries, people have found ways to compensate for Mother Nature’s uneven distribution of water. The number of people with access to clean water has increased from 76 percent in 1990 to 91 percent in 2015. Even so, the number of people without this type of access, 663 million is still too high. Even more troubling, 40 percent of the global population experiences some degree of water scarcity, most of which are from developing countries. To achieve sustainable global water systems, the development of water infrastructure in places where it is lacking is needed, in addition to more mindful use by those who reap the benefits from these systems.