The World’s Worst Famine: Solutions

Hunger, for the privileged, refers to an uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food; craving appetite, simply solved with a trip to the fridge. Unfortunately, in many countries around the world (a great majority consisting of underdeveloped countries) the solution to hunger isn’t quite simple. Famine is a more severe and prolonged form of hunger that occurs when a large population lacks access to food, which results in malnutrition and death by starvation and disease. Famine is continuing to leave horrid effects on people around the world. According to the United Nations, famine causes more than 30 percent of the population to suffer from malnutrition and two per 10,000 people to die each day.

Although famine can, and is often thought to stem from natural disasters such as droughts, earthquakes, floods, and so on, most famines are man-made and a result of war and violence. And as war and violence cause famines, famines in turn cause war and violence. Therefore, preventing one could potentially prevent both.

During wars and/or conflicts, adversaries will starve their opponents into submission by destroying food stocks, livestock, or other assets in rural areas. They’ll also cut off sources of food or livelihood, including destruction of markets in urban and rural areas. Additionally, to force people to leave and prevent them from wanting to return, they will contaminate land and water resources.

Countries like Angola, South Sudan, and Somalia have been victims of food and hunger as political tools, while countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya, have been driven by violence from their homes, and as a result could not return home to plant their crops, resulting in a food shortage. In addition, certain members of households and communities have less access to regular food sources because their age or gender lowers their status to a relatively powerless category. This category is made up of women, children, and the elderly. These individuals often struggle with accessing food because they are left behind when active males migrate in search of food or are taken into military service (where they are fed). The absence of the male leaves women without the extra labour males would provide, without protection against violence, and with less health care.

In addition to the war having an effect on women and kids, the war also affects East African countries where because of armed conflict, the population struggles to face environmental challenges, which are commonly related to famine outbreak.

Prior to this year, a significant famine took place in Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012. In this situation, the international community did not take action fast enough and 260,000 people in Somalia died from the famine. Recently, in February of this year, the United Nations announced famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan. UN agencies stated famine has left 100,000 people on the verge of starvation and 4.9 million people are in need of urgent help. South Sudan is among many countries who are also suffering from famine. Right now, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, collectively consist of 30 million people who are experiencing alarming hunger, surviving only on what they can find to eat. According to UNICEF, 27 million people lack safe water, leading to an increased threat of cholera and other water-borne diseases like diarrhea. The unpleasant impact malnutrition has created, is as ever, affecting children the worst.

Many would argue responses to famine have been successful, being that the percentage of the world considered to be living in famine is decreasing every year, but with the problem still persisting, we ought not to be satisfied until a solution has been found to rid this catastrophe once and for all. Many organizations attempt to bandage the crisis as it bleeds, they attack famine with emergency resources, addressing the immediate cause of famine, rather than finding the underlying cause to prevent the crisis from reoccurring.

Through my research, I came across three significant underlying issues that result in the famine that must be addressed in order to put an end to the crisis. These are democracy, lack of empowerment of women, and a farmer’s lack of success.

A Harvard economist Amartya Sen remarked that “no famine has ever taken place in this history of the world in functioning democracy.” Countries with stable democracies can respond better to conditions leading to famine. By strengthening weaker democracies, the resources needed to provide these countries with the food they lack will come about.

As mentioned earlier, women are among those considered relatively powerless when food wars hit, they have an entire family to feed and often no husband present to help. They are often the first to go hungry in a household, prioritizing their children’s well-being over their own. Educating women about pregnancy can lead to a lower rate of unplanned babies. With fewer mouths a mother must feed, hunger can be reduced.

Thirdly, a farmer’s lack of success can result in poverty which will lead to a farmer’s inability to keep a farm up and running. Organizations, such as the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) provide smallholder farmers with the opportunity to sell their crops to reliable buyers, which provides them with a steady income. The WFP also educates farmers with sustainable practices that can increase the value of their crops and boost national food security over time.

Famine has been an ongoing crisis attacked across the world for ages. Like all issues, the solution is not a matter of waiting for disaster to strike before reacting, but implementing a solution that prevents the disaster. As mentioned, famine is more often than not a result of armed conflict. Nevertheless, natural disasters do cause an outbreak of the crisis as well. Although nature’s actions cannot be controlled, actions must be taken that, although potentially costly, will leave lasting effects. For example, protecting livestock, although an expense, is much more inexpensive than replacing them once they have been decimated by a drought.

The number of deaths caused by famines around the world has indeed decreased. However, today, with the amount of knowledge and resources that nations around the world possess, famine should be decreasing at a much faster rate.

Amanda Pedersen-Henry

Villanova University undergraduate class of 2019. Studying Communication (Journalism) and Political Science.