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Scientists Warn World Facing Major Famine, Could “Lead To Severe Shocks To Global Food System”

Researchers from Washington State University have published a new report of the Great Drought, the most destructive known drought of the past 800 years – and how it sparked the Global Famine that claimed the lives of 50 million people. The scientists warn that the Earth’s current warming climate could spark a similar drought, but even worse.

One of the lead researchers, Deepti Singh, a professor in WSU’s School of the Environment, used rainfall records and climate reconstruction models to characterize the environmental conditions leading up to the Great Drought, a period in the mid-1870s known for widespread crop failures across Asia, Brazil, and Africa. The drought was connected to the most extreme manifestation of the El Nino supercycle ever recorded.

“Climate conditions that caused the Great Drought and Global Famine arose from natural variability. And their recurrence — with hydrological impacts intensified by global warming — could again potentially undermine global food safety,” lead author Singh and her colleagues wrote in the Journal of Climate, published online Oct. 04.

The release of the study came days before the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that global warming could cause intense droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

WSU says Global Famine was among the worst humanitarian disasters in modern time, comparable to the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, World War I and World War II. As an environmental disaster, it was the worst.

“In a very real sense, the El Nino and climate events of 1876-78 helped create the global inequalities that would later be characterized as ‘first’ and ‘third worlds’,” writes Singh, who was influenced by “Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World,” which detailed the social impact of the Great Drought and additional droughts in 1896-1897 and 1899-1902.

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