Dr Rhona MacDonald, Freelance editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
As torrential rain and floods continue to devastate Pakistan, severe wild fires are rampaging across Russia. Apart from raising questions (and eyebrows) about the impact of climate change, both disasters have serious humanitarian, health, social and environmental consequences. As the situation in Pakistan still (quite rightly) has centre stage of international attention, let’s take a quick look at the consequences of the Russian fires.
According to a WHO report, “Wildfires that started in mid-July 2010 in the Central and Volga federal districts of the Russian Federation have produced a dense plume of smoke over hundreds of kilometres. The situation is aggravated by the continuing heat-wave.” It continues, “According to the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Russian Federation, fires are active in 22 regions of the country, and have killed 52 people.”
Smoke, and its effects, continue to be a public health problem, so much so that WHO has just released some guidelines on how the public health consequences should be managed. Furthermore, a Russian agency responsible for Consumer Rights and Human Well-being, warns that in several regions, there is a significant excess of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, in the air. Older people, people with cardiorespiratory diseases and other chronic diseases, children and outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to this harmful combination of smoke, air pollution, and excessive heat.
However, there is another lurking crisis. So far, the fires have destroyed at least 20% of cereal crops and as Russia is the third largest exporter of cereals, this has serious consequences not just for Russian food security but also the world’s. Russia has stated that it will not be exporting wheat, flour, maize and other cereals from 15 August to 31 December. The fires have already pushed grain prices up to a 22-month high as crops have been torched in the heat, leading to concerns that a food crisis similar to that which occurred in 2008 may soon become a reality.
But the question is, has the world learned anything since the 2008 food crisis—a situation that raised many issues on global food security that urgently needed to be addressed. The influence of US agricultural subsidies, millions of acres of crops being set aside to grow crops for biofuels, which have questionable environmental benefits, and unfair trade practices were all highlighted as contributors to the 2008 food crisis. But. because these issues are so politically and economically difficult to handle, there has been little, if any progress twoards resolving them.
So, as is sadly often the case, it will be the poorest, most vulnerable, and least powerful that will suffer the most from any looming food crisis. When will the international community decide not just to talk about, but to take serious and decisive action, to redress this balance? Food is a fundamental foundation of life for all human beings, not just the richest or most powerful.