Famine politics

Image“There is no end to politicians who pursue, at the cost of all compassion and paying the price of human flesh, their denials, dogmas and ideologies. … In Ethiopia and in many food crises of the present and recent past, it is oppression, war and ‘civic mayhem’ that have been the main reasons for famine mortality.”

I just finished Thomas Keneally’s book “Three Famines,” which documents some history of the Irish potato famine, a WWII-era famine in Burma and more recent famines in the 1970s and 80s in Ethiopia.  In general, the book sort of outlines what I hear from talking with aid workers on the policy level and on the ground in hungry countries; food shortage is a key instigator of famine, but the problem is much, much more complex than just not having enough food to feed people in a country. In some cases, food is even shipped out of a country while people in the country starve because they don’t have enough – I was told this happened in Niger during recent food shortages. And even when there is enough food in the country, lower levels of food reserves drives up prices so the poorest people can’t afford enough to sustain themselves.

This book is rather confusingly organized and poorly written, and missing most citations that would give the author a lot more credibility, but still gives a good look at the politics of famine and the government policies and structures that elevate a food shortage or drought to famine proportions. Keneally provides a good reminder that just pouring money or food into a starving country isn’t necessarily a complete or entirely effective solution to a problem that is much broader than poor crop yield.



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