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By Elsa Barron
Pakistan has been hit with unprecedented levels of flooding over this summer’s monsoon season, submerging one-third of the entire country under water. Already, one early attribution study has linked this disaster to climate change, finding that this severity of flooding is extremely unlikely without existing global temperature rise.
While the scale of the disaster is linked to climate change, the scale of the disaster’s impact is linked to poor governance, writes Jumaina Siddiqui. The politically unstable government in Pakistan has failed to develop comprehensive resilience measures, even after similar extreme flood events of the past.
This has led to devastating humanitarian costs, and yet that is not the end of the potential risks. As Erin Sikorsky and Andrea Rezzonico write, “These climate hazards will compound existing challenges in the country, including political instability, Islamic extremism, and nuclear security.” Given such intersecting risks, it is critical to take a holistic climate security approach to the current crisis in Pakistan. As Ameera Adil and Faraz Haider write, Pakistan’s climate security threats should inspire a rethink of comprehensive national security.
In order to discuss these articles and themes, the Center for Climate and Security (CCS) will convene a public roundtable discussion on Friday. September 30th, from 9 to 10 am EST on “The Security Implications of the Pakistan Floods.” The expert panel, moderated by CCS Director Erin Sikorsky, will include:
- Ameera Adil, Assistant Director Sustainability at National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Pakistan
- Faraz Haider, Research Associate, Faculty of Aerospace and Strategic Studies, Air University, Islamabad
- Andrea Rezzonico, Deputy Director, Converging Risks Lab, Council on Strategic Risks
- Jumaina Siddiqui, Senior Program Officer, South Asia United States Institute of Peace
We hope that you will join us for this event. Please register here to access the full invitation and webinar details.
By Elsa Barron
The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza reached a tentative pause in early August, but the systemic shocks of conflict will continue to ripple through the Gaza Strip as local communities attempt to regain their footing. These shockwaves impact access to basic necessities such as food and are amplified by overlapping challenges such as ongoing trade blockades, governance challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change impacts, leading to what the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) describes as a “chronic humanitarian crisis” that lies at the root of food insecurity for Palestinians.
A recent perspective by CCS’s Brigitte Hugh highlights the need for a systemic approach to food security in light of the global, interconnected impacts of climate change, conflict, and supply chain shocks. This follow-up analysis zooms in more closely to focus on food security in Palestine, which faces a challenging and entrenched nexus of risk.
The Roots of a Systemic Crisis
Of the estimated 5.3 million people living in the West Bank and Gaza, 1.8 million are in need of food assistance. During the height of the pandemic, this figure was as high as 2 million amidst widespread economic losses. The conditions are harshest in Gaza, where over 64% of the population is food insecure. At a time of lowered resilience due to COVID-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine created a food systems shock that disrupted the supply chains for critical agricultural products as well as the global wheat trade. These disruptions have had measurable impacts on the West Bank and Gaza, where the price of wheat flour rose 30 and 36% respectively between mid-February and May 2022.
Increasing prices have led to growing concern and discontent in the Palestinian Territories. In the West Bank city of Hebron, crowds gathered in early June to protest rising food prices, urging the Palestinian Authority’s intervention to ensure the affordability of essential items. Eid celebrations in July were particularly challenging, with prices soaring for traditional foods ahead of the significant Muslim feast.
However, today’s food security challenges began long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and are due to a number of intersecting and systemic problems. In the Gaza Strip, any assurance of food security has been challenged by economic blockades imposed on the region for over a decade. The first blockade on Gaza had almost immediate economic and food security impacts. Just sixteen days after the blockade began in January 2006, A UN situation report described hundreds of tons of rotting produce unable to cross the border into Israel for export. These extended losses illustrated major economic blows to the agricultural sector in Gaza, weakening its resilience in future years. A later report from June described the dangerous depletion of food supplies between January and April 2006. It advised that prolonged open trade periods are essential for the food security of the local population.
Yet the restrictions continued and by 2010, a statement from the UN Humanitarian coordinator declared Gaza’s formal economy collapsed due to ongoing blockades, leading to food insecurity for over 60% of local households. Within the Gaza Strip, security measures have restricted farmers and fishers from accessing key agricultural land and fishing zones, paralleling conditions in the occupied West Bank where many farmers have been separated from their agricultural land by military checkpoints.
Poor governance and a lack of long-term planning have also impacted food security in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has failed to create a strategic food stockpile or grain storage mechanism that might boost its resilience to immediate shocks such as the war in Ukraine. These emergency mechanisms are especially critical given the current moment of economic fragility resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already increased the overall rate of food insecurity in Palestine over the past two years.
Climate change overlaps with each of these challenges, impacting agricultural productivity and further challenging food availability and affordability. Farmers in Gaza have expressed concerns about shifting rainfall patterns that have impacted regional crops such as olives and grapes. Farmers have traditionally anticipated the first rains in early October, yet they are now reporting the extension of the dry season for as long as two additional months. These shifts have affected the West Bank as well and made agriculture increasingly difficult in an already water-stressed region, and these disruptions are likely to continue into the future. Climate projections for the Mediterranean region predict increasing heatwaves and an overall drying trend; the most recent IPCC sixth assessment report predicts precipitation decreases of approximately 4% per 1°C global warming.
Water-related climate impacts are particularly risky for Palestinian farmers who face additional water insecurity due to restricted water access and periodic cut-offs by the military, illustrating a network of interconnected challenges. Since 1967, water resources in Palestine, including the Jordan River and the Mountain and Coastal aquifers, have been under the control of the Israeli military. Palestinians are prohibited from constructing and managing water installations without military permits. Due to these restrictions, the agricultural sector in Palestine remains highly dependent on Israel for water resources; in many cases, it is impossible for Palestinian farmers to become self-sufficient.
Further, the West Bank and Gaza rely on imports to meet 90% of their market needs, meaning that system shocks to agriculture and supply chains in other parts of the world have the potential to set off rippling threats in Palestine. In particular, Palestine relies heavily on Israeli imports, including food. According to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, increased temperature and decreased precipitation due to climate change are expected to reduce crop quality and quantity and decrease livestock productivity. More than a future problem, the impacts of climate change on Israeli agriculture are already underway. Last year, the Insurance Fund for Natural Risks in Agriculture reported $96.5 million in damages to Israeli agriculture due to global warming. Ultimately, Palestine’s reliance on imported products means that climate-induced agricultural disruptions in Israel will lead to even greater challenges to putting food on the table for many Palestinian families.
Weeding Out the Roots of Food Insecurity
Given these systemic challenges that have created food insecurity in Gaza and the West Bank, the response requires a similarly systemic approach.
The United States is currently responding to the immediate impacts of the food security crisis. During his visit to the West Bank in July, President Biden announced an additional $15 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians through the World Food Program and other NGOs. These investments are critical to meeting the immediate needs of vulnerable populations. However, ensuring long-term food security requires investments and interventions that address the systemic roots of food system fragility in addition to humanitarian aid that counters its immediate effects.
Changing the geopolitical environment that exacerbates food insecurity in Palestine is a key, overarching need. In parallel, one critical starting point at the local level is to improve climate education for farmers so that they can effectively plan for climate impacts and implement climate resilience strategies. The need for this kind of capacity development at the farmer level is acknowledged in Palestine’s National Adaptation Plan submitted to the UNFCCC in 2016. As climate-induced risks to Palestine’s food security continue to grow and interweave with other factors, such as restricted movement and trade, continued conflict, and supply chain disruptions, it is critical that communities on the ground are informed and empowered to take action to counter climate risks on their own terms.
Ultimately, diverse populations around the world face a similar food crisis, yet unique local conditions and systems inform the roots of the problem. As security threats increasingly become defined by systemic challenges such as climate change, these crises need to be analyzed and addressed as a web of complex risks. Implementing a cross-sectoral analysis of the problem and building partnerships across government and civil society to develop interventions are the first steps to pulling up the crisis by its roots.
The tragedy unfolding in Pakistan in the wake of unprecedented flooding late last month, which has inundated a third of the country and displaced millions of people, is not only a humanitarian catastrophe but also poses significant security threats. Already before the floods, South Asia experienced record breaking heat waves in April and May, leading to unbearable living conditions, widespread energy blackouts, and rapid glacial melt. These climate hazards will compound existing challenges in the country, including political instability, Islamic extremism, and nuclear security.
Given these dynamics, efforts to address the immediate humanitarian crisis as well as develop longer-term climate adaptation and resilience measures are not just the right thing for Western countries to do—such investments will also provide security benefits as they contribute to a more stable Pakistan in the future. In particular, the United States must live up to its climate finance commitments, and better integrate climate considerations into the range of engagements it has with Pakistan, including ongoing military training and support.
By Elsa Barron
Vice Chair of the Board at the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR), Dr. Marcus King, has taken a new position at Georgetown University, where he is now a Professor of the Practice in Environment and International Affairs at its Walsh School of Foreign Service and Earth Commons Institute. Formerly, he was the John O. Rankin Associate Professor of International Affairs and Director of the International Affairs Program at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.
At CSR, Dr. King also serves as an Advisory Board Member at the Center for Climate and Security (CCS). During his tenure at George Washington University, Dr. King coordinated the Elliot School’s co-sponsorship of the Climate and Security Working Group (CSWG) and the Climate and Security Advisory Group CSAG) alongside CCS. CSWG is Washington’s community of practice on climate and security issues. Following Dr. King’s transition, the CSWG and CSAG will also be moving into a partnership with Georgetown’s Science, Technology and International Affairs program.
I spoke with Dr. King to learn more about his career transition in addition to new opportunities arising within the climate and security field.
Elsa Barron: What are you looking forward to in your new interdisciplinary role at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service (SFS) and Institute for Environment & Sustainability?
Dr. Marcus King: First, I would mention that I am a graduate of SFS so I am especially excited to return and contribute to the development of my alma mater’s curriculum.
The accelerating pace of technological and scientific innovation has created new challenges related to environmental sustainability, cybersecurity, the amplified reach of radical ideologies, and modern warfare to name a few. I am looking forward to the opportunity to build upon the existing major in Science, Technology and International Affairs to develop new environmental security courses that address these challenges. New courses will bridge the gap between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and international relations. These connections often already exist in the real world but are rarely seen in higher educational settings. It is notable that International Relations (IR) is itself an interdisciplinary endeavor composed of history, economics, political science and other fields. Combining IR with STEM will provide students with a full toolkit to face emerging and complex ecological security problems such as the climate crisis.
Barron: What opportunities does the Georgetown Earth Commons provide for new thinking on topics like climate and ecological security?
Dr. King: There are so many opportunities. There are two initiatives I am particularly excited about that apply the Earth Common’s (ECo’s) vision. The first is the development of new degree programs. The Earth Commons along with the McDonough School of Business and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences created a Masters of Science Degree in Environment and Sustainability Management, with the first cohort of students just arriving on campus this fall. The degree reflects the understanding that science and business principles are both critical to achieving sustainability goals across the globe. In my new position, I will be instrumental in the development of joint degree programs between Earth Commons and the SFS.
Another exciting program is ECo’s unique Post-baccalaureate Fellows program. This program harnesses the burgeoning talents of a select group of Georgetown’s newest alumni. They have the opportunity to research and to work in cooperation with faculty to implement environmental and sustainability projects on campus and in our local and global communities. You can think of it as sort of a gap year experience. Fellowships have already been awarded for the 2022-2023 academic year.
Barron: As you depart from your role with George Washington University, what strikes you as some of the department’s greatest accomplishments under your leadership as director of the International Affairs M.A. (MAIA) Program?
Dr. King: The MAIA Program enrolls about 275 students across 17 concentrations. I am particularly proud of two that were created during my watch. The first was the concentration in Global Gender Policy. The concentration equips future international affairs professionals with the knowledge and skills to apply a gender lens to their work and advance gender equality in all areas of their professional careers.
The second is a concentration in Global Energy and Environmental Policy. This concentration includes classes that provide subject matter expertise along with proficiency in research methods and data analytics. This program was responsive to the demand signal from employers who were interested in hiring analysts or other professionals who had a built-in capacity to evaluate energy and environmental issues as they “hit the ground.” We also developed recruitment strategies that tripled the number of new Elliott School students hailing from underrepresented communities.
Barron: You were recently invited to attend Vice President Kamala Harris’s release of the White House Action Plan on Global Water Security. What was the significance of this strategy in building on your past work and guiding your future pursuits? In your new position, how will you continue to build bridges between academic and government institutions?
Dr. King: Achieving the goal of water security demands a “whole of society” approach. The White House Action Plan for Global Water Security was the culmination of the efforts of dedicated activists and policymakers from across sectors and the political spectrum (including academia) that have supported action on this issue for many years. Along with CCS, I have been engaged in convening a parallel and complementary process on the wider issue of climate security through the Climate and Security Working Group. Over the years, we have created a community of practice that can set agendas, testify before Congress and provide policy recommendations. As the oldest school of international relations, Georgetown has a long history of engaging and training policy practitioners. The Earth Commons provides additional support and innovative approaches to build on the conversation between academia and the U.S. government.
My own research seeks to understand how water insecurity in fragile states contributes to violence and political instability including in areas that are of national security concern to the U.S., which is something I explore in-depth in my latest book, Water and Conflict in the Middle East. I believe that water scarcity is one of the most immediate and visceral consequences of climate change, and I hope that my research will not only inform the scholarly debate but can also inform policymakers’ decisions to address this challenge.
We at CSR congratulate Dr. King on his new position and look forward to continuing our work together in the years to come.