World in View: When war opens the door to famine

From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters

by Eugene Walker

Despite months of warning about impending famine, conditions continue to deteriorate in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and parts of Nigeria. In addition to severe drought, armed conflicts are occurring in each country. War is displacing millions of people, turning them into refugees fleeing for their lives. Crops are destroyed, with water contamination leading to the spread of cholera and other diseases. Starvation is occurring, with famine said to involve as many as 20 million people.

A young girl stands amid the freshly made graves of 70 children many of whom died of malnutrition. Dadaab refugee camp, May 2017. Photo: Oxfam East Africa.

A young girl stands amid the freshly made graves of 70 children many of whom died of malnutrition. Dadaab refugee camp, May 2017. Photo: Oxfam East Africa.

South Sudan—The armed conflict/civil war that has wracked South Sudan since independence has now left one-third of the country’s 13 million people displaced. Over one million have fled to Uganda, with hundreds of thousands more leaving for Sudan and Ethiopia. “A style of fighting that appears calibrated to maximize misery” has been reported.

Yemen—Involved in an ongoing civil war and subjected to a murderous bombing campaign by a U.S.-backed Saudi coalition that has destroyed water distribution systems, some 500,000 Yemenis are now infected with cholera, over 2,000 having died—more than the total number of cholera deaths reported worldwide in 2015. The New York Times reports: “Relentless aerial bombings by Saudi Arabia and a trade blockade have mutilated the economy, sending food prices spiraling and pushing hundreds of thousands of children to the brink of starvation.”

Somalia—The country that suffered a devastating famine in 2011 is faced with the prospect of another, with millions in danger. Besides armed conflict, there is a severe shortage of water, whose cost has risen dramatically, and its effect on the growth of food crops. Some six million Somalis are affected. Between war and drought, half a million have recently been displaced. A dysfunctional government and Al-Shabaab armed soldiers, who control vast portions of the country, deepen the danger of widespread famine.

Nigeria—In the northeast, the guerrilla group Boko Haram has been carrying on a devastating armed conflict that has forced millions of Nigerians to flee. It has created conditions whereby famine is taking hold and could easily result in the deaths of untold thousands.

While nature may make its contribution, famine and its deadly effects are primarily a man-made phenomenon—particularly in our “modern civilization” of classist, racist/ethnic, and sexist conflicts.

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