A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including crop failure, overpopulation, or government policies. This phenomenon is usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. Every continent in the world has experienced a period of famine throughout history.
Despite all of her experience though, Hawa, like so many Somalis who refuse to leave their country to the chaos of being the world’s longest-running failed state, is caught in a worsening cycle. More than 20 years ago, she started a one-room hospital for women, which is now home to the sprawling camp. Mama Hawa, as she’s called by the thousands who depend on her, allows people to live around the hospital for free. This is highly unusual in the war culture of Mogadishu, where survival of the fittest means profit however you can.
A camp on the edge of town is home to 5,000 people, mostly women and children who fled the famine in other parts of Somalia. Somalis have also crowded into refugee camps in the capital, Mogadishu, and elsewhere in the country, as well as in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia.
A Somali U.N. worker, Abdi Nur, said many of the men at the Dolo camp have returned home to plant crops. But many of the women said they won't join them.
"I don't want to go back," said Hafida Mamood, 62. "There's no security and no animals. We don't want to go anywhere. The food is here."
But phosphorus is a different story. Readily available global supplies may start running out by the end of this century. By then our population may have reached a peak that some say is beyond what the planet can sustainably feed.
Man - not nature - was the cause of the first mass starvation in Soviet Ukraine. In this respect, the Ukrainian famine of 1921-1923 was very different from the contemporaneous Russian famine, but quite akin to the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933. Since starvation in Ukraine was the result of a policy of plunder by Lenin's government, the responsibility lies with the Soviet state.
Moscow's treatment of Ukraine at the time of the famine was-that of an imperial government with regard to a rebellious colony. By removing grain from starving Ukraine, the Bolsheviks accomplished several objectives at once: Ukrainian grain helped nourish hungry Russia; it provided a marketable commodity easily exchanged for hard currency in the West; finally, and not insignificantly, it physically weakened Ukrainian opposition to Russian domination. Bullets can miss their target; famines - never.
I don’t know whether Obama’s leadership might have found those votes, but I do know that the US has not mustered the national effort to respond effectively to the Horn of Africa’s needs. The US is far too focused on expensive and failed military approaches in the drylands – whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia – to pay heed to long-term economic development strategies aimed at addressing the root causes of these countries’ ongoing crises.
A massive drought this year was not exactly predictable, but the risk of famine was easily foreseeable. Indeed, two years ago, in a meeting with US President Barack Obama, I described the vulnerability of the African drylands. When the rains fail there, wars begin. I showed Obama a map from my book Common Wealth, which depicts the overlap of dryland climates and conflict zones. I noted to him that the region urgently requires a development strategy, not a military approach.
Obama responded that the US Congress would not support a major development effort for the drylands. “Find me another 100 votes in Congress,” he said.
Belanger says the Kenyan military offensive in southern Somalia also is threatening aid work and putting vulnerable people further out of reach.
“Unfortunately the recent offensive and the recent conflict has slowed us down a little bit, and we've had to delay or stop our programs that would reach around 85,000 people. So that's rather worrying," Belanger explained. "We hope that the focus of the international community will be on helping the people of Somalia, [to] make sure that they receive good quality assistance in a timely way.”
By the time a famine is declared and pictures of starving children are blasted across the Internet, it’s too late to mount any preventative response and certainly too late to ask “Why didn’t we know about this.” You can’t declare a famine where there isn’t one, and nobody cares unless there is one. It’s a chicken and egg debate of the most brutal kind.
Ultimately, famine prevention in Africa rests with African governments. But some need help to rid their countries of conflict and to build democratically responsive, accountable, and transparent institutions so they can address fundamental problems of food production and access.
The system is called the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, and it was originally developed by the UN Food and Agricultural Association's Food Security and Nutritional Analysis Unit for Somalia to provide a more evidence-based method of analysing food insecurity and malnutrition and planning relief efforts. It was later expanded to other countries, with input from various UN agencies and aid organizations, including the World Food Programme, CARE and Oxfam