Author: Yusur al Bahrani
In order to prevent famine and end an existing one, it is crucial to understand what famine is. This introduction will help define famine and identify some of the causes. While famine is a preventable threat to the human population, it will not end if the root causes are not addressed.
According to the www.dictionary.com definition, famine is a “noun” that means: Extreme and general scarcity of food, as in a country or a large geographical area; any extreme and general scarcity; extreme hunger and starvation. This is a broad definition, which could include many countries and geographic areas hit by food insecurities.
However, famine is not a word to be used lightly. Therefore, international organizations have agreed on a scientific frame that would help them identify when to declare a nation to be suffering from famine. According to United Nations, a famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition, and hunger are met. The measures are:
- At least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope.
- Acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent.
- The death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
There are now four countries suffering from, or are still under the risk of, famines: Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. While in our Platform of Survival, climate and agriculture are mentioned most, those countries are all experiencing conflicts. Indeed, most of today’s declared famines are the result of war and are used as weapons against a country or a region, turning the victims into hostages of hunger. However, many food insecurities are also affected by climate and could be changed by using different methods of agriculture.
According to a report published by Oxfam, famine is caused by “multiple factors, compounded by poor (or even intentionally bad) policy decisions that make people vulnerable. When no one addresses this vulnerability, it leads to famine.” Let’s take a close look at the four countries to understand some of the factors that are beyond climate and drought.
In Nigeria, the conflicts between armed groups, mostly Boko Haram and Nigerian military, prevent farmers from growing food. According to a number of reports, farmers were unable to grow any food in some northeastern areas for almost five years. Boko Haram controlled northeastern areas, which made it challenging to get humanitarian aid to the people suffering. While the UN declared that famine had been “averted” in 2017, millions of people are still at risk, for armed attacks and conflicts continue to exist.
In South Sudan, famine is caused by civil war. Since the conflict started in 2013, more than four million people have fled their homes. According to 2019 report by Human Rights Watch, seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, most of them face acute food shortages. Again, the armed conflict means people are cut off from food supplies. All parties have attacked aid workers and restricted access to populations in need. At least 12 aid workers were killed in 2018, bringing the toll to over 100 since December 2013.
Unrest, war, and armed conflicts are the cause of the famine in Yemen. The war began when Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition and began airstrikes in 2015. While all parties, including the rebels, are responsible for casualties, the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for most attacks targeting hospitals, schools, and humanitarian organizations supplying food and medicine. The armed conflict continues. According to a UN World Food Programme report, published on March 2019, twenty million Yeminis (70 percent of the population), are food insecure. This marks a 13 percent increase from 2019. Yemen is now described as “the world’s worst crisis.”
In Somalia, a combination of conflicts and drought fueled the famine for 70 years. The conditions are not getting better. A report published by US on December 2018 warns that “many fear a repeat of the 2011 famine in which nearly 260,000 people died.” While the main cause is drought, this would not have happened without the conflicts that control access to food and medicine— scarcity is climate- and human-led by wars.
The UN Development Programme supported sand dams. For instance, sand dams in Puntland, Somalia, can harvest water above and below ground and help to build the resilience of local people. However, efforts to combat climate factors and drought have to be combined with measures to stop and prevent armed conflicts.
In summary, taking a look at all countries at the risk of or declared under famine, there are multiple factors and no one solution to help end this. For instance, drought is a factor that could be dealt with scientifically while raising resiliency in communities. But when dealing with armed conflicts and intentional causes of famine, there are many measures that need to be taken globally. For instance, the famine in Yemen could have been prevented if the conflict ended and arms sales seized. Famine could have been prevented if food and medical aid had found their way to the people of Yemen.