A leading global health figure has warned the next worldwide health crisis could come in the form of food shortages, as the price of basic supplies skyrockets in even the wealthiest of nations.
Peter Sands, who is the executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, believes a food shortage could be “just as deadly” as an airborne pandemic if authorities fail to prepare.
According to Sands, after over two years of completely restructuring the world upon the emergence of a respiratory virus, governments now have to prepare for an even more complicated beast.
Australia is already beginning to see early signs of food stress as lettuce prices hit an incredible $12 per head in some areas following the flood season. Natural disasters, coupled with inflation and complications in the global trade industry, could produce a perfect storm as the globe begins to find its feet.
Sands, who works in areas already struggling with poverty and malnutrition, says wealthy governments risk making the “classic” mistake of concerning themselves only with crises that reflect the most recent disaster the world has faced.
“It’s not as well-defined as some brand new pathogen appearing with distinctive new symptoms. But it could well be just as deadly,” he said, via Reuters.
Sands said governments needed to strengthen health systems to prepare for the health repercussions of food shortages.
While it is unclear just how devastating accelerated food shortages could be to a first-world country like Australia, health experts have urged leaders to stay vigilant.
The Global Fund is aiming to raise $18 billion to boost worldwide health systems and has already raised over a third of its target for the 2024-2026 period.
University of Canberra ecological public health expert Dr. Ro McFarlane says the global food production and supply system is proving as vulnerable as silicon chips, clothing, toys and fuels.
“We’ve been talking about these very scenarios for 50 years,” Dr. McFarlane told news.com.au in May.
“We’ve been speculating. We’ve been measuring. We’ve been applying our minds to making predictive models. But for various reasons, we’ve not been taken particularly seriously.”
“We’ve centralized and commodified and simplified all the foods we eat,” she explains. “That’s made it incredibly vulnerable to the extremes in weather that are happening at the moment in Canada, the US and Australia. The ability to absorb a conflict like that between Russia and Ukraine just isn’t there.”
“It’s about the incredible implications of not getting these right. It goes beyond conflict and social unrest. It’s also a national health issue,” Dr. McFarlane continued, highlighting the potential pressures of climate change on food supplies around the world.
“In an ideal world, if you can get what is currently an adequate amount of food produced around the globe into the mouths of everyone, we’d be OK. But that won’t remain the case under climate change – unless we’re very clever.”
In the US, President Biden has continued to warn of food shortages due to “Russian sanctions” as prices for supermarket staples and fuel continue to soar in the country of 330 million.
Australia and New Zealand food and agribusiness research general manager Stefan Vogel said the conflict would result in a huge shortage of grain this year and beyond.
“Last year, Ukraine exported 70 million tonnes of grain, which is twice the amount that comes out of Australia … but this year it will be a fraction of that,” Mr. Vogel said.
“Volumes will be reduced by at least 45 percent and probably more.”
Last month, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned of “the specter of a global food shortage in the coming months” without intervention from international leaders.
According to UN figures, the number of severely food-insecure people has doubled in the past two years, from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million today.