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Specter of famine

Beyond what are appalling conditions in certain parts of the world, frequently those wracked with warfare, it appears that there is now actual famine in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and northeast Nigeria.


Famine as a state is strictly defined, not just applied to a country or a region in an economic mess. There are three specific conditions that must apply:
(a) one in five households in a particular region are experiencing extreme food shortages,
(b) more than 30 percent of the population of the area in question is extremely malnourished, and,
(c) at least two people for every 10,000 of the population die each day.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in announcing the impending crisis last week, estimated 20 million coming victims, among them 1.4 million children. The causes of what is about to happen are twofold: money and conflict. The U.N. needs $5.6 billion, most of it before the end of March. At this point it has only 2 percent of the needed amount in hand.

Conflict in the afflicted countries is the root cause of the famine. People who are either involved in fighting or who are trying to live in areas that are being fought over are not raising food or having access to relief supplies of food that can keep them alive. The direct causal relationship between war and hunger has been on display across history, in southeast Asia, the Balkans and on the conflict horizon of the world.

The circumstances of each of these particular four conflict countries are different, as is the level of United States involvement in the wars in the countries concerned.

Somalia, in addition to two running years of drought, has been a scene of U.S. military involvement since late 1992. Its population of 10 million has been stirred like oatmeal by fighting, including bomb and drone attacks from the nearby American base in Djibouti, the former French Somaliland, for nearly a decade. Famine, which Somalia also experienced in 2011 when 200,000 died, is one result of the disruption of food cultivation brought about by war. The United States could simply stop participating in the intra-Somali warfare, setting an example and perhaps providing humanitarian relief as well.

Yemen is another case where the United States is directly involved. It supports Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their continuing systematic bombing of Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country. The conflict, an Islamic Sunni vs. Shiite fight, to a degree a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has basically nothing to do with the United States apart from the fact that we sold the Sunni side their warplanes and support their bombing of Yemen ― that which has disrupted food crop cultivation and helped cause the famine. Seven million Yemenis, of which 460,000 are children, could easily die. The United States could cut out support of the war and provide humanitarian relief to the victims if the Saudis, the Emiratis and America’s own defense contractors could be appeased.

The United States is not participating directly to any great degree in either the conflicts in South Sudan or northeast Nigeria, the other two potential famine victim countries. Both are fully capable of feeding their own people if they could stop fighting among themselves. It would perhaps be easier in South Sudan, where the civil war is tribally based. In Nigeria, a very wealthy, oil-rich country, the government continues to have trouble exercising control in its northeast against Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group.

Apart from stopping stimulation of the Somalia and Yemen conflicts, the United States should accept its responsibility as a rich world power to provide its share of the aid to prevent the 20 million people, many of them children, from starving to death as we ourselves fight obesity and the diseases that arrive from it ― particularly since the stifled food production in Somalia and Yemen are partly a result of America’s own military activities.

Jimirasire

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