Monday, November 28, 2005

Is Famine a Man-made or Natural Disaster?

In Asia, Africa and Latin America, well over 500 million people are living in "absolute poverty". over 9 million people die worldwide each year because of hunger and malnutrition. 5 million are children. Some 1.2 billion people suffer from obesity. For the price of one missle, a school full of hungry children could eat lunch every day for 5 years. EVERY 3.6 SECONDS, SOMEONE DIES OF HUNGER. Famine is the last hurrah of long-term hunger. How does this persist in the 21st Century?Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Niger, Ethiopia...the list keeps growing of countries that are currently or will soon be experiencing famine. How can this continue?
Below, see some perspectives from our guest blogger, Jamie P (The imagine is taken from the following website? members.tripod.com/ ~afronord/hsdoc/famine.jpg)


Is Famine a Man Made Problem?
Famine can be traced back to the roots of civilization and seen throughout the annals of history. This empirical fact leaves one to conclude famine is inevitable, given the occurrence of natural disasters associated with the passage of time (http://library.thinkquest.org). And while environmental catastrophes have reigned supreme as the cause of famines for many years, is it still true today? In other words, economically and technologically speaking, does the world today possess a certain prowess that would allow man to circumvent the hardships inflicted by Mother Nature? One scholar laments that “Once we begin to see beyond the rather seductive and ironic depictions of the famine encounter, we will be in a position to recapture a glimpse of the real causes of famine and cautiously avoid the conflation of natural calamities with ‘man made’ famines”(Araia). Yet, other experts cling to environmental attributions, stating that natural disasters still lie at the root of all widespread hunger (FitzGibbon and Hennessy). I would argue, however, that while this second point, respectively, may initially be the culprit, pernicious famine is exacerbated largely by man. Thus, while Mother Nature may initiate hunger, man bears the onus for creating or at least not averting widespread famine.
Famine may be referred to as ‘the regional failure of food production or distribution systems, leading to sharply increased mortality due to starvation and associated disease…’ (FitzGibbon and Hennessy). Historically speaking, in a majority of the situations where this definition comes into play, natural disasters are the initial cause. Many possibilities exist within this realm including drought, earthquakes, flooding, tidal waves, and insects such as locusts (http://library.thinkquest.org/).
Pestilence is also an environmental condition which can lead to famine. It is commonly known that diseases of epidemic proportions such as AIDS and Malaria are highly prevalent in many of the African countries. These Sub Saharan territories, in which the threat of famine always exists, are crippled when entire chunks of the population fall prey to these infectious diseases which thus severely curtail a population’s ability to produce or acquire food (http://news.bbc.co.uk). Yet, while all of these environmental issues, are certainly problems, countries internally and internationally should be able to circumvent these issues to prevent the wide spread famine that follows the initial hunger.
The natural disasters stated above do not necessarily result in a famine. A flood may wipe out the crops for an entire country which causes initial hunger; yet, famine happens later when many die of starvation due to poor governance. Colonialism is an example of this phenomenon.
The colonialization of the imperial powers in the African countries caused many problems. Their insistence on growing cash crops continues today so that “…the persistence of using good land to grow ‘cash crops’ such as coffee, tea or cashews for export, continues in many countries today. Often the best land is used in this way” (FitzGibbon and Hennessy). In addition, the problem is not exactly lack of rainfall “…but the vulnerability of a given society that wholly depends on a rain-fed agriculture” (Araia). Theories abound as to why exactly Africa remains underdeveloped today. Whatever the exact cause may be, exploitation of colonial powers certainly did not help Africa’s long term development. This underdevelopment only perpetuated famine today.
Poor governmental planning is also a cause of famine. While a natural disaster may devastate the crops in a region, a sound government should have stored enough food or resources to acquire sufficient provisions to prevent widespread death from starvation. Also, the world community should step in to remedy the problem. Poverty is also rampant in Africa, and many situations occur in Sub Saharan countries today where food exists but the people are simply to poor to buy it. Obviously, fixing these solutions are easier said then done; yet, it demonstrates how in these circumstances, famine is caused by man and not the environment.
In addition to man exacerbating the hunger that stems from a natural disaster, certain famine occurs completely void of environmental problems. War, including internal strife, which persistently has ravaged the African continent for decades, often involves pillaging, looting, and burning. This has caused thousands to go hungry and die as a result of this man made famine (FitzGibbon and Hennessy).
Another example of man made famine is genocide. Often, dictators in power will suppress food from their enemies in order to eliminate them. Hunger is also used as a tool in order to cause certain sects of the population to comply. Sometimes, it can be harnessed as a means of punishment. Examples include Ethiopia and the Sudan where internal strife and the government’s suppression of food for factions of their populations occurred. Graft can also produce famine in a population. In corrupt governments, which are pervasive in Africa, food and aid from other countries is sometimes confiscated by corrupt officials who then sell the resources for their own profit preventing the aid from getting to the people it was intended for (FitzGibbon and Hennessy).
Sudan serves as an example of a direct link between government and famine. In this case, in 1997, the northern government decided it would not allow international planes to land in the South to administer aid because of the civil war that was occurring. In essence, they thought that by stopping the aid, they could eliminate their enemy by starving them to death and also illicit support by placing blame for the food shortage on their enemy (FitzGibbon and Hennessy).
A similar example occurred in Ethiopia in the mid 80’s where the government halted the flow of food into Eritrea during a famine because of threatening rebel forces. “Through these actions, the government hoped to reduce the support for Eritrean rebels, and eventually to force them to surrender. However, these acts caused many thousands of deaths within Eritrea” (FitzGibbon and Hennessy)
Another example in which government is to blame is Niger. Nigerian leaders denied there was a food shortage and turned away 19 million dollars from the World Food Programme (WFP). The governmental leaders accused the WFP of exaggerating the problem and denying the mass starvation (http://news.bbc.co.uk).
Natural disasters certainly are a problem and they live up to their name, disaster. Today, however, it seems that man is the true disaster in regards to famine. Examples abound where famine after a natural disaster could have been prevented if there had been proper planning and support from the international community. If utilized properly, technology, production, and distribution could ensure that there are adequate resources to feed the entire world population. Also, in today’s day and age, famine is solely a man made problem with the persistence of poor governance, war and poverty. Despite natural disasters being the root of some hunger and loss of food, man is the ultimate cause of death due to starvation.
Helpful Websites:
http://chora.virtualave.net/ghelawdewos-famine2.htm
http://www.ucc.ie/famine/roots/pdfs/Roots%20of%20Famine2