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10 Important Facts One Should Know About Famines


According to the United Nations, the world is undergoing the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Currently, South Sudan resides in the middle of a massive famine that affects 10,000 people. Forty percent of the people in South Sudan struggle with food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen declared famine warnings, and malnutrition puts 1.4 million children at risk of death in Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. Furthermore, seven million people risk starvation in Nigeria.

The following are 10 facts about famine and its consequences.

  1. A famine is a condition of extreme starvation of food. Famines are caused by natural disasters like droughts, floods, earthquakes, insect plagues and plant diseases. Manmade causes, such as wars, civil disturbances, sieges and crop destruction can also lead to famines. Famines cause significant and prolonged hunger to a country’s population which results in malnutrition and death by starvation and disease.
  2. Famines are declared when:
    • 20 percent of the households in the area face extreme food shortage with limited ability to cope.
    • Acute malnutrition rates exceed by 30 percent.
    • Death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
  3. Famines evolve slowly and may remain underreported for extended periods of time before they become massive famines. Families have experienced months of crippling hardship before a crisis makes a headline.
  4. Overpopulation is not a cause of famine. The English philosopher Thomas Malthus created this myth in his 1798 essay, in which he argued that population levels outpace available resources. Famines now grip lightly populated areas like Somalia and South Sudan.
  5. Violence and conflict serve as major sources of famines. Other countries cut South Sudan off of supply routes, causing food prices to increase and aid delivery to be hampered. The civil war in South Sudan led to widespread hunger, with half of the nation’s harvests getting destroyed, food deliveries blocked and workers attacked.
  6. Hunger is only one part of famines. Famines can damage future generations, as malnutrition in infants can lead to the suffering of poor health and stunted development.
  7. Famines can drive violence, as global threats of terrorism and political or economic instability grow out of poverty. The famine-affected areas undergo conflict, which leads to displacement and loss of livelihood. Lack of opportunity can lead to choosing terrorism as a way of life.
  8. The 21st century brought massive progress. Until the middle of the 20th century, massive famines could kill millions of people within a decade. The adoption of human rights and globalization has made it difficult to turn a blind eye on people dying of hunger.
  9. A massive famine hit Somalia between 2010 and 2012. Two hundred and sixty thousand people died.
  10. The United Nations needs 2.5 billion to respond to the famine crisis in the Horn of Africa. The agency fundraised 62 percent of this goal.

Famines and hunger are not inevitable and are often human-made. Thus, they can be human-solved. Action must be taken to improve the rights of millions of children and families around the world.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr