LONDON, Aug 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cities planning for weather disasters, pandemics or civil unrest need to take steps to support local farmers and protect key transport routes so as to secure food and water supplies in a crisis, experts said on Wednesday.
The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) stress-tested food systems in Baltimore City in the United States for 14 hypothetical natural and man-made emergencies.
Researchers found that unexpected shocks like floods and terror incidents could curb access to food, endanger food safety and disrupt supply chains, according to a report published in conjunction with the Baltimore Office of Sustainability.
"In order to plan for disruptions to the food system, we need to understand how crises could impact each link in the supply chain, from farm to food bank," said Sarah Buzogany, food access planner for the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative.
The report proposed solutions that could also be used by cities elsewhere, including redesigning public transport to facilitate access to food, developing community food storage plans and supporting local farmers to be ready for emergencies.
Such steps would improve the food supply for Baltimore's residents now while enabling the city to adapt to threats like climate change, said Erin Biehl, the report's lead author.
The study highlighted the importance of integrating food systems into disaster preparedness plans.
It found that people with low incomes, children and the disabled were most likely to go hungry during a crisis, in a city where many neighbourhoods are under-served by supermarkets and one third of residents do not own a car.
But the predicted stresses on a city's food system in an emergency are not unique to Baltimore.
Many grocery stores in the United States and other parts of the world rely on computer systems and electronic payment methods, which could be crippled by a major electricity outage or cyber attack.
Global agricultural challenges such as droughts and other climate extremes that could affect international food markets should also be considered, as many cities lack sufficient farm production to feed their populations, the report said.
Transport links are vital to keep food systems running in a disaster, with most food warehouses in Baltimore located on the outskirts of town, which could be cut off in a crisis, it added.
Like many cities in the mid-Atlantic, Baltimore's food system is also vulnerable to flooding and snowstorms, which could further disrupt transport routes, the report found.
"Baltimore is one of the first cities in the country to assess and plan for resilience at all levels of the food system," said Roni Neff of the CLF, who oversaw the study.
"This approach has a lot of potential to help drive the policy innovations that Baltimore and other cities need to protect residents' access to safe, healthy and affordable food for years to come," she said.
Baltimore will use the report's recommendations to develop a "Food System Resilience Plan" and update its disaster preparedness plan this year.
Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Megan Rowling.
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