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Asian Development Bank

Chapter 14.1 Drought, food security and famine


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[:en]There have been many high-profile food crises in recent decades, triggered by drought, floods, harsh winter weather and diseases affecting crops and livestock. Climate change research indicates that areas already prone to drought and other weather extremes are likely to suffer more severely in future. However, natural hazards are only one factor: food crises and insecurity are complex events involving political, economic and social factors, including conflict (see Box 14.1: Key determinants of food insecurity). Today around a billion people are undernourished and the sustainability of current food production systems is in question.+Practical Action, Hunger, Food and Agriculture: Responding to the Ongoing Challenges (Rugby: Practical Action, 2011), In some countries food aid is a regular component of government development programmes.

Box 14.1 Key determinants of food security

  1. Food stability: factors that create fluctuations in food supplies and prices, including extreme weather events and conflicts.
  2. Food availability: factors affecting the production, distribution and sale of food, ranging from the availability of land and labour to functioning transport systems and markets.
  3. Food access: factors affecting the ability to purchase or otherwise obtain food, including affordability and cultural preferences.
  4. Food utilisation: factors affecting the human body’s ability to use the food it digests, including nutritional value and food preparation, quality and hygiene.
IISD, Climate Resilience and Food Security: A Framework for Planning and Monitoring (Winnipeg: International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2013),

Development agencies can play a significant role in managing drought and food security initiatives. They are often skilled at linking livelihood issues with disaster management, facilitating participatory and community-level approaches and building upon indigenous coping strategies and appropriate technologies. Food crises tend to occur in countries with ongoing food security and related developmental challenges. In such cases, humanitarian organisations should complement existing, longer-term food security activities and objectives, and there are repeated calls for better coordination in this area. DRR perspectives, and agencies, can help to bridge this gap.

Case Study 14.1 Socio-economic factors in resilience to drought

In the Gao and Mopti regions of Mali, changes in rainfall patterns have put pressure on pastoralist and agro-pastoralist livelihoods by contributing to drought, water shortages, lack of pasture and food insecurity. A study in 2009 found that, although households were equally exposed to these problems, their ability to adapt to them varied according to their social and economic resources. Some coping strategies, such as improving irrigation systems and planting alternative crops, were only available to wealthier members of the community; others, such as buying and selling livestock, were exclusive to men. Even though the poorest families were more likely to be involved in activities not affected by the weather, such as bricklaying, they remained dependent on wealthier households for employment, gifts and borrowing. They also found it harder to join cooperatives and credit schemes because they could not afford contributions or meet membership conditions. Women were marginalised when it came to obtaining external support, in addition to having to take on heavier workloads where male family members had migrated in search of work.

L. O. Naess et al., Changing Climates, Changing Lives: Adaptation Strategies of Pastoral and Agro-pastoral Communities in Ethiopia and Mali, Action Contre la Faim, Tearfund and Institute for Development Studies, 2010,