Is the Era of Great Famines Over?

Is the Era of Great Famines Over? by Alex de Waal.

The worst drought in three decades has left almost 20 million Ethiopians — one-fifth of the population — desperately short of food. And yet the country’s mortality rate isn’t expected to increase: In other words, Ethiopians aren’t starving to death.

I’ve studied famine and humanitarian relief for more than 30 years, and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw during a visit to Ethiopia last month. As I traveled through northern and central provinces, I saw imported wheat being brought to the smallest and most remote villages, thanks to a new Chinese-built railroad and a fleet of newly imported trucks. Water was delivered to places where wells had run dry. Malnourished children were being treated in properly staffed clinics.

Compare that to the aftermath of the 1984 drought, which killed at least 600,000 people, caused the economy to shrink by nearly 14 percent and turned the name “Ethiopia” into a synonym for shriveled, glazed-eyed children on saline drips.

Why the change?

Thanks partly to some good fortune, but mostly to peace, greater transparency and prudent planning. Ethiopia’s success in averting another disaster is confirmation that famine is elective because, at its core, it is an artifact and a tool of political repression.

Famines of the last century were mostly about politics. This article was in the New York Times, so they didn’t mention that the huge Chinese and Soviet famines last century were due to socialism. But there is a pretty solid hint:

Nearly 115 million people died of starvation between 1870 and 1980, almost 90 percent of them as a result of imperial conquest, great wars or repression under totalitarian regimes, according to an analysis we conducted at the World Peace Foundation.

hat-tip David Archibald