How is food security threatened by a natural disaster?

Most scientists agree that there is a connection between climate change and natural disasters. Once again we are experiencing extreme weather in the United States. From drought-stricken regions of the Northern Plains to the ravages of Hurricane Harvey, large-scale disasters often disrupt, if not destroy, food security, affecting the poorest families the hardest.

In today’s issue of The Guardian, Climate Change reporter George Monbiot states:

It’s a fact: climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly. This is a man-made climate-related disaster. To ignore this ensures our greatest challenge goes unanswered and helps push the world towards catastrophe.


To claim there is no link between climate breakdown and the severity of Hurricane Harvey is like claiming there is no link between the warm summer we have experienced and the end of the last ice age.

We know that the severity and impact of hurricanes on coastal cities is exacerbated by at least two factors: higher sea levels, caused primarily by the thermal expansion of seawater; and greater storm intensity, caused by higher sea temperatures and the ability of warm air to hold more water than cold air. Read more at The Guardian

Although the services and people of South Texas had more warning and time for preparedness than those hit by Katrina, the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey is still taking a toll after 8 days from not only the impact of the hurricane itself but also the nonstop rain in its aftermath. Flooding caused by the rain is imminent or has happened from the reservoirs that are already over capacity.

NASA image of Hurricane Harvey rainfall
NASA image of Hurricane Harvey rainfall

According to NASA:

Rainfall estimates for the period 21 to 28 August 2017 showed the accumulated effects of all of the rain from Harvey to date.

  • 20 inches from the coast near Galveston Bay to in and around the Houston area as a result of the near continuous stream of showers and rain being drawn over the coast in rainbands on the eastern side of Harvey’s counter clockwise cyclonic circulation.
  • 10 inches were calculated to have fallen from western Louisiana all the way to near Corpus Christi on the coast.
  • The result has been widespread, massive flooding across the region and brings back memories of Tropical Storm Allison, which dropped up to 40 inches of rain in Texas back in 2001 and caused devastating flooding in the Houston area.

Climate disasters deplete short-term food supplies, but with the help of relief efforts, those stocks can be replenished.

What about food production in the immediate future? Over the following months and years?

In the wake of disasters, rebuilding food production capabilities and distribution is essential to help people gain access to safe and nutritious food. Right now stranded people have run low or out of food in the affected areas. In the long term, we need to be sure we have rebuilt the agriculture infrastructure in the area.

Texas is one of the top the top 10 agricultural producing States in the US. It ranks #1 in acres of farmland of all the states. Almost 1/2 of the state’s total agricultural production is cattle. Other livestock products are chickens, hogs, and dairy products. Sorghum, corn, and wheat are among the top 5 cash crops. Many fruits are produced in Texas including watermelons, grapefruits, and cantaloupes. Important Texas vegetables include onions, potatoes, and cabbages. Texas is the #1 producer of cabbages among the states. Texas is also a leading producer of pecans.

With Texas contributing such a substantial amount of products to the food supply, in the short term we will likely see a rise in food prices. This will affect everyone in the USA and in turn, other countries that depend on the USA for grain and other food staples.

What can you do to help right now? There are many giving opportunities for immediate relief. Here is a list that appeared yesterday on Forbes.com:

If you want to help but aren’t sure where to start, tax-exempt charities that have indicated they are accepting Harvey-specific donations include:

• American Red Cross. To make a financial donation, visit their website, call 1.800.RED CROSS or text HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation for those in need.
• Catholic Charities of USA. To make a financial donation, visit CCUSA’s disaster-specific website or text 71777 to make a donation.
• Global Giving. To make a financial donation, visit their website or text HARVEY to 80100 to donate $10 to Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
• Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax deductible donations. The fund is administered by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity. To make a financial donation, visit the GHCF website.
• Salvation Army. To make a financial donation, visit www.helpsalvationarmy.org, call 1.800.SAL ARMY, or text STORM to 51555.
• United Way of Greater Houston has established a Flood Relief Fund to help with recovery needs of those most impacted. To give to the United Way Flood Relief Fund, visit unitedwayhouston.org/flood or text UWFLOOD to 41444.

(Please note that these are not endorsements of a specific charity. If you’re not a fan of those organizations listed, there are many other charities which would welcome your support.)

Corporate donor sites and giving challenges include:

• GoFundMe has created a landing page that aggregates the campaigns already created to help those affected by Harvey.
• 4 Paws Farm, a 501c(3) charity, will be providing aid for animals affected by Hurricane Harvey. To find out more or to help, click here.
• Lowe’s has activated its customers donation program in Texas stores. Customers can also donate to the American Red Cross online here. Lowe’s Heroes volunteers from area stores will join the First Response Team of America to assist Aransas Pass residents as they recover from Hurricane Harvey.
• Lyft has added the American Red Cross to their Round Up & Donate feature – enabling riders to round up their Lyft fares and donate the difference to the American Red Cross from now until the end of September with just one tap. Lyft is also donating $100,000 to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
• Starbucks has donated $250,000 to relief efforts. Customers in any U.S. company-operated store who want to help can make a donation to the American Red Cross at the register. Additionally, Starbucks employees who make a personal contribution to the relief efforts can request matching funds through the company’s Partner Match program (pro tip: ask your company if they have a donor match program). More details can be found here.
• Tito’s Vodka is partnering with the American Red Cross, and will match dollar for dollar all donations up to $50K. Those looking to support relief efforts can contribute here.
• United Airlines will match the first $100,000 raised through its charitable campaign. United MileagePlus members who donate a minimum of $50 to any of United’s charitable partners will receive up to 1,000 bonus miles (details, which download as a pdf, are here). Remember that for tax purposes, if you receive something of value in exchange for a donation, your charitable deduction must be reduced accordingly.

In addition to financial donations, what else can you do?

• Austin Pets Alive is seeking families that can foster cats and large dogs. In addition to cash donations, the organization can also use in-kind donations like large plastic or metal bins with lids. Space for some items is limited so check with the organization first before you gather supplies. If you can help with fostering or in-kind donations, check out their website for details. (Vodka for Dog People, Tito’s Vodka pet cause program, is also donating $10K to Austin Pets Alive)
• The SPCA of Texas has also put out a call for foster homes to help care for the animals already in shelters and those coming from the Gulf Coast. You can sign up at www.spca.org/foster. The organization is also accepting financial donations and in-kind donations, including cat litter, litter boxes, towels, blankets, large wire crates, toys, treats, pet beds, newspaper and gas gift cards.
• Donations of blood are also needed. You can’t claim a tax deduction for giving blood but it sure is a terrific way to help. Find your nearest donation center by entering your zip code here.
• I know from past disasters that if you’re able to write a handwritten note or two and send to those who are on the front lines of these disasters including police and fire departments, schools, and churches to offer your good wishes, it is typically appreciated.

Sources:
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/29/hurricane-harvey-manmade-climate-disaster-world-catastrophe
https://phys.org/news/2017-08-nasa-tropical-storm-harvey-rainfall.html#jCp
https://www.ers.usda.gov/faqs/
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/08/28/helping-out-after-hurricane-harvey-where-what-how-to-donate/#515a644d3c79