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Climate Change Threatens Protein Deficiency, Global Famine | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Smoke is released into the sky at a refinery in Wilmington, California. (Reuters)

London – Climate change is draining crops of protein and therefore creating a famine threat around the world, according to two separate studies published on Wednesday.

Protein deficiency

In a first of its kind step, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, published a study stating that if the present rates of carbon dioxide emissions do not stop, people in around 18 countries around the world may face a loss of around 5 percent of the protein they obtain from their diet by 2050.

Researchers estimate that roughly 150 million people may be at risk of protein deficiency because of elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Senior research scientist at the Department of Environmental Health Samuel Myers said that this would serve as a warning to the countries at risk to start working towards monitoring and controlling their emissions as well as improving human nutritional sufficiency and adequacy.

The study, “Estimated Effects of Future Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations on Protein Intake and the Risk of Protein Deficiency by Country and Region,” was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Africa and Asia

Researchers explained that around 76 percent of the world population gets most of its dietary proteins from grains, such as rice and wheat, even though these are not high sources of protein.

They collected the data from experiments in which crops were exposed to high concentrations of CO2 and then combined these results with the global dietary information from the UN.

Under elevated CO2 concentrations, protein contents of rice, wheat, barley and potatoes decreased by 7.6%, 7.8%, 14.1% and 6.4%, respectively. The results suggested continuing challenges for Sub Saharan Africa, where millions already experience protein deficiency, and growing challenges for South Asian countries, including India, where rice and wheat supply a large portion of daily protein.

India may lose 5.3% of protein from a standard diet, putting a predicted 53 million people at new risk of protein deficiency, according to the researchers.

Diseases in Europe

Another research studied the impact of climate change on the emergence and spread of infectious diseases in Europe and concluded that it could be greater than previously thought.

The study of University of Liverpool, published in Scientific Reports, is the first large-scale assessment of how climate affects bacterium, viruses or other microorganisms and parasites that can cause disease in humans or animals in Europe.

Growing evidence shows that climate change is altering the distribution of some diseases, in some cases causing epidemics or making diseases spread within their natural range, for example, Zika virus in South America, or bluetongue and Schmallenberg disease in livestock in Europe.

Dr. Marie McIntyre of University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health, explained that although there is a well-established link between climate change and infectious disease, it wasn’t previously understood how big the effects will be and which diseases will be most affected.

“Climate sensitivity of pathogens is a key indicator that diseases might respond to climate change, so assessing which pathogens are most climate-sensitive, and their characteristics, is vital information if we are to prepare for the future,” she added.

Nearly two-thirds of the pathogens examined were found to be sensitive to climate; and two-thirds of these have more than one climate driver, meaning that the impact of climate change upon them will likely be multifaceted and complex.

Diseases spread by insects and ticks were found to be the most climate sensitive, followed by those transmitted in soil, water and food. The diseases with the largest number of different climate drivers were Vibrio cholerae which cause cholera), Fasciola hepatica that causes liver fluke, Bacillus anthracis, causes anthrax, and Borrelia burgdorferi, the cause of tickborne Lyme disease).

Pathogens that spread from animals to humans were also found to be more climate sensitive than those that affect only humans or only animals. Emerging diseases may be particularly likely to be impacted by climate change.