Corona leads to poorer harvests in poorer regions
This is the conclusion of Dr. Hussam Hussein, a visiting scientist at the University of Kassel. Together with Dr. Mohammad Al-Saidi from Qatar University, they have studied the impact of the pandemic on water, energy and food. One result is that people are paying more attention to their hygiene, therefore masks and other biomedical waste can contaminate the fields. Furthermore, more hand-washing and disinfecting means more use of water, which means less water is available for growing food. Because of more hygienic practices, private water demand in Jordan, for example, increased by 40 percent in 2020.
Another problem for Jordan are border shutdowns due to Corona. Food that had previously been imported from abroad temporarily stopped entering the country. In order to still be able to feed its own population, the government forbade the export of its own food. In addition, more food is to be grown in Jordan, for which more water is needed. Other countries are also struggling with such problems. In Lebanon, food prices have risen sharply since the crisis, and in Yemen, where war has been going on since 2015, the food supply situation has become even worse.
Energy needs, on the other hand, are not changing much. It is clear that a lot of energy is being saved, because many public buildings and offices are closed. But people are retreating into the private because of lockdown regulations. Computers, televisions and air conditioners are used more often, which is why individual energy consumption is rising. In New York in 2020, for example, there was little variation in electricity consumption between midday and evening or between weekdays and weekends. The result for each individual is that his or her electricity bill will be higher.
However, for all the negative impacts, Hussam Hussain also insists on the potential opportunities that can arise from the pandemic: "The current crisis can also be seen as a stress test for our sustainability targets, policy and management. COVID-19 is shaping the environmental research agenda into the foreseeable future. It represents a unique experiment with long-term implications for environmental policies, climate regulations, and economics, as well as for our perceptions of globalization, equity, and environmental responsibility." For example, increased residential electricity consumption could lead to the purchase of more efficient electric appliances, border closures could contribute to more efficient regional food production, and more careful use of water could come about in general.
This study is now published in the journal Science of The Total Environment and is available online at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969721015977
University of Kassel
Department 11 - Ecological Agricultural Science