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All about: Rural communities

  • Story Highlights
  • More than 3 billion people live in rural areas of the developing world
  • Great dependence on climate-dependent local resources
  • Global aid is decreasing to help adaptation to climate change in rural areas
  • Climate change-related disasters disproportionately affect rural poor
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By Rachel Oliver
For CNN
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- It is said that nowhere else on earth will the impacts of climate change be felt more acutely than in the developing world.

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Workers leave the Gobi desert after a day of afforestation work in Yinchuan, China.

And within the developing world, no-one else will be more vulnerable to these changes than the rural dweller.

More than 3 billion people live in the rural areas of the developing world; amongst them three quarters of the world's poorest, and three quarters of the world's hungry. There are many problems they face, but with relation to climate change the key problems are pretty fundamental: where they live and how they live.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the weather-related impacts of climate change will largely be played out in the lower latitude regions of the world, where much of the world's rural poor live.

In these areas, communities, particularly ones that are built around coastal areas and the delta regions, will be faced with more droughts and floods and increasingly erratic weather patterns. In addition to causing widespread damage to people and their properties, these weather disruptions will profoundly impact food production levels.

The livelihoods of the rural poor tend to be based around one sector: Agriculture. The developing world is full of farming communities -- 60 percent of India's population depends on subsistence farming, for example, while 87 percent of the world's 400 million small farms are in China.

Communities like these depend heavily on local resources -- forests, fisheries, agriculture and livestock. And it is their reliance on climate-sensitive resources, such as local water supplies which make them even more vulnerable. Any changes to land quality, water supplies or fuel sources will be felt the quickest in these areas.

Just not getting IT

Compounding the problem for the people living in these communities is access to information and technology - or lack of it. Gaining access to the rural communities of the developing world is no easy task.

According to the UN System Network on Rural Development and Food Security, more than 850 million people in the developing world "are excluded from a wide range of information and knowledge."

And according to the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), there are twice as many non-school going children in rural areas compared to their urban peers.

The rural poor are overall the most cut-off from the media and new technologies, which is not surprising when you consider four out of five people living without electricity come from rural areas of the Third World.

What this means - aside from the obvious effects of a lack of education - is that when disasters do strike these communities are the least equipped to prepare for them, and the least prepared to react to them, because they don't have the infrastructure. But it also means that it takes longer to get the message out that something's happened.

Financing additional aid

There has been much talk on financing adaptation funds to help the developing world cope with the changes climate change will bring. In total, the estimates of how much the international community needs to spend annually on adaptation programs overall is near $50 billion, says Oxfam, but others disagree.

The World Bank puts the amount at anywhere between $10 billion and $40 billion, while both Christian Aid and the UN Development Program put the figure nearer $100 billion.

With aid from the G8 countries falling over time instead of increasing, Oxfam believes that unless something changes now, international adaptation aid will be short by $30bn of what was originally promised.

While there has been much talk of increasing international aid to help agricultural development in these parts of the world, Oxfam says aid levels have instead been decreasing over the years.

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In the mid-80's, 17 percent of international aid was spent on agriculture; by 2001 it had plunged to 8 percent, Oxfam says.

In predominantly rural Sub-Saharan Africa, where arguably it needs more assistance than most other parts of the world, international aid for agricultural projects slumped by 43 percent during the 1990's.

Population growth means more pressure on food supplies

While the aim of the international community - through the Millennium Development Goals - is to halve global hunger by 2015, in the last 10 years the numbers of the world's hungry have grown by another 54 million, now totaling 854 million.

As a region, sub-Saharan Africa feels it more than most, as it is home to more than 200 million of these hungry people; it's numbers having increased by 20 percent in the last decade, says Oxfam.

Overall an additional 132 million people are expected to join this group worldwide by 2050, says The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), but by 2080 the UN believes hunger or malnutrition could be affecting an extra 600 million of us.

Because of the expected population growth - the vast majority of which will happen in the developing world - in the next 25 years, the human race will need 50 percent more cereal and 85 percent more meat to sustain expected demands.

Farmers across Africa now face the prospect that suitable farm land will shrink, as will the length of growing seasons, and crop yields will tumble. One quarter of a billion rural dwellers in poor African countries now also face severe water shortages by 2020, which in addition to its obvious human impacts will prove disastrous for food production.

Oxfam warns that the continent's agricultural production will be "severely compromised" moving forward.

A half a billion hectares of its crop land have already become degraded, with rain-fed agriculture production levels in some African countries predicted to fall by as much as 50 percent, reports the Population Reference Bureau.

This is particularly bad news for the region -- around 95 percent of the entire region's cropland is rain-fed. In Central and South Asia, crop yields are predicted to fall by 30 percent, and 1 billion of its people will also be hit by the loss of freshwater sources.

Migration can compound the problems

Investing in agricultural aid doesn't just help poor farmers do their jobs. A failure to extend sufficient support could bring disastrous effects not just for these rural communities but for the surrounding regions and even beyond. The reason: Migration.

When faced with issues like failed crops, flooded land, water shortages, creeping desertification -- as will be an issue in parts of Latin America -- the obvious thing these people will do is move.

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The latest estimates of the total number of climate change refugees that the world can now expect to see by 2050 is 250 million people. These people will come from the developing world, and it is likely that most of them will come from these rural communities.

The developing world has already suffered disproportionately from climate change-related disasters: Between 2000 and 2004, of the 260 million people a year affected by climate change disasters, a staggering 98 percent of them lived in the developing world, according to the UN's latest Human Development Report. Moving forward they are being warned that they face more of the same. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

(Sources: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; CGIAR; UN System on Rural Development and Food Security; FAO; Third World Network; Oxfam; The World Bank; Independent; The Guardian; The International Fund for Agricultural Development; UN 2007 Human Development Report; Population Reference Bureau; UN Development Program; Christian Aid)

All About Nature and the EnvironmentGlobal Climate Change

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