Is famine inevitable in some countries?

After 25 years of a famine that has killed a million people Ethiopia prompted one of the largest charity campaigns in history, the hunger-stricken country is asking for emergency food aid for 6.2 million people.

This comes as long drought and irregular rainfall are causing severe crop failure in some parts of Ethiopia. Here, Yangago Bunja, a farmer in Wolayta district in hardest-hit southern Ethiopia, describes what the total loss of his maize crop means for his family .

Drought is especially disastrous in Ethiopia because more than 80 percent of people live off the land. Agriculture drives the economy, accounting for half of all domestic production and most exports.

At present only 17% of Ethiopia’s 80 million people live in urban areas. Keeping people in the countryside is a way of preventing large-scale unemployment and the unrest that this might cause. But it’s also resulting in a situation where farmers cannot feed themselves or their families let alone the rest of the country.

But drought is not the only problem; many farms are so small and the land so overworked that it could not provide for the families that work it even with normal rainfall. Civil war and political instability have also greatly hindered relief work.

So, is famine inevitable in a country like Ethiopia? It’s constantly stricken by drought and if that isn’t the problem, political instability comes in the way of any type of growth. Should we accept that some countries will never have enough food for their people? Or is that a reflection on how the world ha s failed to solve the problem? In a world where obesity is endemic, why are we still letting others die of hunger?

32 Responses to “Is famine inevitable in some countries?”

  1. 1 Thomas Murray
    October 22, 2009 at 22:19

    Not dying of hunger is a basic self-evident human right, or should be.

    But in countries where water, arable land, and other resources are meager, people have an obligation to exercize some self-control and limit the size of their families.

    I’m a 55-year-old Irish/German/Scott/Frenchie who’s cut so far back on expenses that I typically drink only two cups of coffee, and eat one meal a day. So even we so-called “rich” Americans are feeling the pinch of an overpopulated planet.

    –Louisville, Kenticky, US.

  2. 2 Bert
    October 22, 2009 at 23:11

    Ineffective or incompetent government policies and internal strife seem to be the primary cause of famines, these days. Certainly, any artifical government policy that prevents farming from becoming efficient, as the Ethiopian policy of making farms ever smaller, can only make matters worse.

    The huge population increase does not help either. Hasn’t the population of Ethipia more than doubled in the past 25 years? Has it tripled? That’s outrageous. How about a big national campaign to discourage too many children?

    Besides which, the policy of keeping people out on the farm is counter-productive. It was only BECAUSE western countries grew their economies beyond just agriculture that these economies grew. When people can produce more than just their own food, that’s when they achieve growth. That is what the Industrial Revolution permitted. Moving the economic basis beyond just agriculture.

    The question you ask, “why are we still letting others die of hunger?” is not the point. “We” aren’t doing it. They are doing it unto themselves. What do people suggest? Recolonization, to “show the way?” I don’t know. Why do western apologists keep up this habit of self-flagellation?

  3. 3 aero
    October 23, 2009 at 01:16

    Yes. In some countries, population growth have outstripped the ability of the country to provide enough food to feed its population. In others, less land is cultivated to produce food than is used for urban development, domestic settlement and industrialization. While, in the present case of Ethiopia, natural occurrences (drought) have devastated the countries ability to produce enough food to eat, and as a result, famine, is truly inevitable

  4. October 23, 2009 at 02:10

    I guess with draught affecting so many countries famine is inevitable, there are other countries in the world that has plenty of food to spare no one should go hungry. I wake up with the BBC news every morning , When I saw that report about Ethiopia . ithose poor helpless women and children it broke my heart I wish that it was’nt so. I will definitely pray for them.

  5. 5 Tan Boon Tee
    October 23, 2009 at 02:36

    Usually one would attribute famine to the result of natural disasters, like drought or flood. However, man-made factors can be crucial.

    How often do human negligence, corruption, mismanagement and unequal distribution of food contribute significantly to famine?

  6. 6 Dennis Junior
    October 23, 2009 at 04:38

    Shaimaa Khalil:

    *Is Famine inevitable in some countries? (Yes…That is the sad, but honest truth….)

    *So, is famine inevitable in a country like Ethiopia? (Yes)

    *Should we accept that some countries will never have enough food for their people? (Honestly yes…Because of mulitple reasons)

    *Or is that a reflection on how the world has failed to solve the problem? (True statement)

    *In a world where obesity is endemic, why are we still letting others die of hunger? (Since, it is a dual-edge knife…)

    ~Dennis Junior~

  7. October 23, 2009 at 06:39

    it is avoidable. we, the human race, posess the technology to distribute water to drought stricken regions. what it lacks is infrastructure. what impedes building it? rightly said, corruption. how about paying off the corrupt government in order to build the infrastructure. it’s twice as expensive, it would give corruption justification, but it would get the job done.

  8. 8 Chuksagwu
    October 23, 2009 at 06:50

    The mere idea that famine is inevitable in any country on earth attempts to scorn advancements in science and technology. There are clear cases of nations that are entirely located in arid regions but have not succumed to famine. The case of Ethoipia is that of failing to plan hence planning to fail. If its government rises to the challanege by instituting irrigation and large scale mechanised farming the problem would be curtailed. Effective political leadership would also engender peace and save the country the from the resource sapping venture of civil strive.

  9. 9 scmehta
    October 23, 2009 at 06:52

    Yes, famine mostly was and is inevitable in some countries, due topographical and/or atmospheric reasons. And now, the speeding up of the climate change, due to the global warming, is further adding to the fury of all sorts of the known natural calamities around the world. But, the world is so selfish, more than ever before; all those countries, who are capable of producing surplus food and can provide the much needed help/succor to the hungry-millions around the world, are more interested in their individual economic progress and prosperity, by concentrating more and more on other industrial growth/developments. Something solid, permanent and more humane needs to be planned and done urgently to enable such famine/drought-prone countries to be preplanned/prepared to face any future crises of shortage of basic necessities like potable water, simple but nourishing food, some temporary shelter and minimum clothing.

  10. 10 Ronald Almeida
    October 23, 2009 at 07:01

    The rich countries having exploited the others and still doing so, pay only lip service to the problems of the world at large. They don’t put their money where their mouth is, they just swallow it all themselves.

  11. 11 Audrius Kviliunas
    October 23, 2009 at 11:32

    Famine danger will never leave them until large part of them leave land and settle into towns.There are too much people on too much little land.And Goverment and may be Richer countries can partialy help it.there are needed only water and electricity in elementary hauses and a little job or piece of bred will be found there.This can be done not all at once but step by step in one direction.In European Union are supported big farms and for those who have little land is given compensations that they do not cultivate land and sell production becouse production of big farms is cheaper then production of little land owners.And in Ethiopia all goes in contrary direction and we have results.

  12. 12 Sefah Ato Welbeck
    October 23, 2009 at 11:48

    Hm!it’s very pathetic and heart-rendering to see people living on a rich continent like Africa to suffer to death.It is a fact that most countries are not on the safer side of topograghical advancement and are therefore liable to different climatic condition,but i do not want to believe that famine is inevitable in some countries,(ETHIOPIA BEING A TYPICAL EXAMPLE).The home truth is all about the management of the economy by its leaders,here is the case where the leaders in Ethiopia are visionless,and again lacking the Technical skills yet they hurriedly mount the political offices with the aim of fulfilling their own selfish desires.My heart is very heavy and i pity those leaders,may God save Ethiopia.Amen

  13. 13 VictorK
    October 23, 2009 at 12:13

    Yes, famine is inevitable in some countries. Some cultures can make the desert bloom (Israel), others will take a country that’s a net exporter of food and transform it into a hunger-zone (Zimbabwe).

    “Or is that a reflection on how the world has failed to solve the problem? In a world where obesity is endemic, why are we still letting others die of hunger?” Again, what’s meant by ‘the world’? This is not a ‘world’ problem, so why is it a ‘world’ repsonsibility? Who are the ‘we’ who are to be responsible for the lives of others, and by what right do they assume to direct and dictate such issues of life and death?

    • 14 nora
      October 23, 2009 at 14:31

      We are anthropoidus erectus homo sapiens who are separated by lines on a globe. There but for fortune.

      Famine is curable.

      • 15 Tom K in Mpls
        October 23, 2009 at 18:37

        It is not the lines on the globe, it is the terrain and the local government. And yes, it is curable. But the cure takes time and is not a painless process.

  14. 16 Kevin PE
    October 23, 2009 at 13:03

    I remember seeing unsettling pictures of these starved desperate people ever since I was child, and that goes back some. I also remember seeing that every third guy was toting an AK47. What has happened to the millions and millions of Dollars in aid? Unfortunately donor countries have had little success in ensuring that the aid reaches the intended recipients intact. The aid itself is a means of control, with warlords commanding who gets what in return for absolute allegiance. No doubt nature has not been kind to that area of the world, and promises to get even meaner. However, there are practical examples where crops can be managed in arid climates – it can only be successful if there is the political will and the aggressive use of modern science. Sadly without genuine accountability and good governance these horrific scenes will continue to unfold. The weirdest thing though, is seeing mobs burning effigies of Uncle Sam while in the background they are loading bags of maize with the logo “product of the USA”

  15. 17 Nigel
    October 23, 2009 at 13:07

    Sadly yes! and as the world becomes more populated (read under resourced) the amount of people affected will increase, affected beyond natural causes and pestillence and become victims of the world’s inability to feed itself.

  16. 18 Jessica in NYC
    October 23, 2009 at 14:17

    This is a immense problem that has been debated for years and decades in the western work, how to help the poor and feed the hungry. Many solutions have been proposed and many things have been tired. There were a couple of good WHYS blogs and on air discussions.

    The solution seems simple enough, we have food and they are hungry, so why not give it to them? I can’t fully understand the gravity of the issue, but African countries have a lot of resources and many corrupt governments. The west seems to only perpetuate the problems. But how do you say to a starving people and children, “You government has to help you, while we fest and have tons of “left-overs.” It’s inhuman and unfair.

  17. October 23, 2009 at 15:17

    Every single individual on this planet depends on agriculture.To famine prone regions GM crops could be part of an answer,along with International food aid. But yes,we should accept that famine will be a regular occurance,but that is not to say we should ignore it.

  18. 20 T
    October 23, 2009 at 15:20

    No. What’s inevitable is some richer countries trying to manipulate poorer countries debt problems to gain control over parts of their infrastructure.

  19. 21 gary
    October 23, 2009 at 16:02

    Famine is a current problem in several countries. It threatens in several more. Depending upon the prediction time frame, it is probable in many. Accordingly, these are good questions for everyone to ask. From where does my food come? How much do I waste? How much spoils or is consumed by vermin before it can arrive at my table? How much of its cost is due to its production and how much is due to commodities speculation? What percentage of its contained energy is “net” (i.e. greater than the fossil fuel energy used in its production)? I think for many people, the answers will be, “I don’t know.” This suggests many people need to do a bit of research, and then to use the gained knowledge to help the currently hungry feed themselves. All technical solutions require experimentation. Maybe we should test ways to feed the hungry now, rather than waiting ‘til we are hungry too. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m very irritable when I’ve not gotten my supper.

  20. 22 Tom K in Mpls
    October 23, 2009 at 16:38

    Starvation is not a problem, it is a symptom. It is natures way of saying ‘your situation is not sustainable, do something about it’. We come once again to my three point plan. Just sending them food is what they call negative feedback. It validates their bad habits. Life ain’t fair. They need to realize it is time to do something to make their lives better and not beg for handouts.

    I am all for helping them develop their country to make it work. But throwing food at the problem will only make it worse.

    • 23 nora
      October 23, 2009 at 19:20

      Hunger is not just a symptom, it is a problem in itself. By ‘throwing food” we just might save the person who comes up with a solution for the famine. Hard to think when you are starving and possibly hallucinating from hunger.

      • 24 Tom K in Mpls
        October 26, 2009 at 17:37

        If the person has an infrastructure to work in, sure, it might happen. But if there was a working infrastructure, there would be no starvation.

  21. 25 patti in cape coral
    October 23, 2009 at 18:39

    Famine is inevitable, but starvation doesn’t have to be. There is enough food on the planet for everyone.

  22. 26 Juan Manuel Moran
    October 24, 2009 at 00:37

    There’s definitely enough food, resources power, technology and knowledge in the world to feed and help those who need it the most (people DYING because they do not have anything to eat or a place to shelter). But WE just don’t give to others. In a city the rich do not give enough to the poor (usually take from them). In the world rich countries do not give to the poor ones (usually take from them- until there not much left of course…). But it needn’t to be that way.

  23. October 24, 2009 at 12:43

    Famine is not inevitable and neither is irrigation. That’s the problem.

    October 24, 2009 at 20:28

    Famine is not inevitable even in a desert. I fear I might sound anti-Africa but don’t get me wrong. The situation is getting out of hand because of ignorance by the ordinary citizen and policy makers. In this continent we have misplaced notions of freedom that are really outdated. Freedom to do what for heaven’s sake? There are enough reasons why Africa might continue to import food that can grow everywhere in this continent. Blaming outsiders in totality won’t wash even though some arguments are justified. We continue to wait for the west to cut green house gases all the while we wantonly continue cutting down vegetation cover while we ignorantly invoke the name of God when we face a calamity. Destruction of nature through misguided commercial interest in large and small scale is the real cause. The soil fertility and surface water are on decline and the situation is desperate.

    October 24, 2009 at 20:54

    The people of Africa need to forgo constant denial of reality. Nature is massively destroyed and it is fighting back and the situation will worsen given our escapist behavior and passing of the buck. Listen to our very own people in public service and the NGO community. Sweet talkers glued to the mouth of the purse for petty cash. Look at the hordes of our educated cream drowning in the seas escaping from reality. Look at our academics who have nothing to show but supervision of looting of national resources that could have modernized the agriculture in this continent. What a shame!
    Yes! Punity measures are not the answer and as a fact, God knows there enough people in this world and countries full of genenorisity who have contributed massively to help this continent. They must not stop now. Africa is not beyond repair and may soon turn around but only if an ingenious way is crafted out of this mess. Reasserting of a firmly grounded sense ownership and responsibility in Africa is long overdue.

  26. 30 charmane from Jamaica
    October 25, 2009 at 02:06

    I refuted the statement that famine is enevitable. I remember Michael jackson doing that song back in the 80 asking for help for Africa. While Africa might not have the technical ability to build the infrastructure to develop agriculture the way it should, why can the first world countries help? Instead of giving them food, why dont we help them to help themselves.

  27. 31 JanB
    October 25, 2009 at 18:46

    Famine is never inevitable, unless of course you allow your country’s population to double every 20-30 years and have it lead by African “leaders”.

    To cut population growth you need education (which African leaders don’t have any money for because they have to fight tribal wars and build a new palace every month.) One other thing you’d need is awareness among the population that the traditional ways were fine in the stone age, but have now become unsustainable (unless they reject all Western and Asian technology like medicine and artificial fertilizer, to keep the population low.)
    This awareness will never come as long as traditional warlords and government leaders have a say.

    So the source of it all are the African leaders, replace them and things can start to improve, there’s your dilemma (well to some, for me it would be an easy choice): colonialism/foreign interference for a couple of decades, OR, hunger, brutal dictatorships, poverty and war for at least the next couple of centuries…

  28. 32 vijay pillai
    October 27, 2009 at 01:03

    The deforestation of africa was going on for more than several decades and now the famine is the result like that of 1984 famine in ethiopia. i feel sorry for these poor people who’s way fo life has been threatened once again.; i myseld inspired to bring to the attention of world leaders about cuttin down of trees as i saw in 1974.
    it has become customary for people like economist from india who got nobel prize writiong about how to feed the world’s poor and the journalists like from BBC becaome famous for carrying dying child of famine and saving a girl became famous.but the lives of poor not improved duirng the last 25 years.
    the economic and powerty redctuion policy has to be changed for better.

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