Boston(PTI): Human-caused carbon dioxide emissions may put 53 million people in India at the risk of protein deficiency by 2050 due to a decline in the nutritional value of rice, wheat, and other staple crops, a study warned today.
If carbon dioxide (CO2) levels continue to rise as projected, the populations of 18 countries may lose more than five per cent of their dietary protein by 2050, according to the findings by researchers at Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health in the US.
They estimate that an additional 150 million people may be placed at the risk of protein deficiency because of elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is the first study to quantify this risk.
“This study highlights the need for countries that are most at risk to actively monitor their populations’ nutritional sufficiency, and, more fundamentally, the need for countries to curb human-caused CO2 emissions,” said Samuel Myers, senior research scientist at Harvard.
Globally, 76 per cent of the population derives most of their daily protein from plants, according to the study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
To estimate their current and future risk of protein deficiency, the researchers combined data from experiments in which crops were exposed to high concentrations of CO2 with global dietary information from the United Nations and measures of income inequality and demographics.
They found that under elevated CO2 concentrations, the protein contents of rice, wheat, barley, and potatoes decreased by 7.6 per cent, 7.8 per cent, 14.1 per cent, and 6.4 per cent, respectively.
The results suggested continuing challenges for Sub Saharan Africa, where millions already experience protein deficiency, and growing challenges for South Asian countries, including India, where rice and wheat supply a large portion of daily protein.
The researchers found that India may lose 5.3 per cent of protein from a standard diet, putting a predicted 53 million people at new risk of protein deficiency.
They also found that CO2-related reductions in iron content in staple food crops are likely to also exacerbate the already significant problem of iron deficiency worldwide.
Those most at risk include 354 million children under five and 1.06 billion women of childbearing age – predominantly in South Asia and North Africa – who live in countries already experiencing high rates of anaemia and who are expected to lose more than 3.8 per cent of dietary iron as a result of this CO2 effect.
The research, taken alongside a 2015 study co-authored by Myers showing that elevated CO2 emissions are also likely to drive roughly 200 million people into zinc deficiency, quantify the significant nutritional toll expected to arise from human-caused CO2 emissions.
“Strategies to maintain adequate diets need to focus on the most vulnerable countries and populations, and thought must be given to reducing vulnerability to nutrient deficiencies through supporting more diverse and nutritious diets,” Myers said.
“And, of course, we need to dramatically reduce global CO2 emissions as quickly as possible,” he said