The historic reason behind famines have always been poor harvest; crop failure and drought condition which can either start a famine or can worsen the situation in an existing one. But human intervention can also play an influential role in worsening the case. Blockade of imports and exports, deliberate attempt on part of the government to stop food supply, hyper- inflation and injecting poverty into a specific community for ethnic cleansing can turn famines catastrophic to humanity. The United Nations officially declares a famine if the situation has exceeded a certain number of deaths and cases of malnutrition.
South Sudan, world’s newest country that came into existence because of enormous U.S. support is surprisingly the only country in the entire region that went through mass starvation. Ever since its independence in 2011 ,South Sudan for more than three years has been in a situation of civil unrest, with tens of thousands already brutally dead. But the mass hunger on an unimaginable scale, which was estimated by the United Nations revealed that 1,00,000 South Sudanese were starving and 42% of the country’s population have limited access to proper food. Unlike other famines, the case of South Sudan is not a mere result of natural disaster. It is a result of man-made catastrophe which is being caused by the ongoing war and poverty..
The latest famine to be reported since the 2011 Somalia famine is centered in Unity State in the northern-central part of the South Sudan. In December 2013, a civil war broke out in South Sudan between Salva Kiir who belonged to the Dinka ethnic group and former Vice President Riek Machar, who was a Neur. Civilians from the opposing ethnic groups were targeted by the troops loyal to each of these two men. Violence, repeated attacks and bombings had caused massive amount of destruction in the region which destroyed agricultural lands in areas where domestic agriculture fed large parts of the country. The government led attacks not only resulted in massive mass displacement, but also devastated grain production which caused hyperinflation in food prices.
While the farmers scrounged for wild plants because their animals were dead, the urban dwellers too faced problems as the hyperinflation reached an extent of price hikes up to 800% in the past recorded years. The unwillingness of South Sudanese leaders to put aside their political gains for the good of their people had deteriorated so much so that the Kiir’s government had hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance from the rest of the world.
The South Sudanese people have had a long troublesome struggle for decades from the discriminatory and rapacious Sudanese regime. The idea of using the means of food production and starvation as weapons against the rebellious South Sudanese population is not new and has been used before by the government of Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum, which seized power in a coup in 1989. These localized famines during the North- South conflict have resulted in approximately 2 million South Sudanese deaths. Similarly, Salva Kiir is using catastrophic strategies that Bashir used in the past on the South Sudanese in Juba.
In Nigeria, the insurgency by the extremist group Boko Haram created disastrous humanitarian crises. Since the declaration of war on the country, the government had forced the people to flee to from their homes to escape the groups campaigning of brutality. This had led to the collapse of the agricultural systems of the area, because of the insurgencies so much so that the United Nations estimated that at least 4.8 million people are in need of urgent food assistance.Similar problem existed in Somalia where the government lost control of vast areas of the country, much of which was governed by the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab. The conflict between the government in Mogadishu and the al-Qaeda aligned group had devastated the economy to an extent that it became harder to bring aid to the country.
The Arab world’s poorest country Yemen was not new to this phenomenon where 7 million people faced starvation which illustrates a clear example of how war directly causes famine. The war between the South-backed government in exile and the Houthi rebels backed by the Iranians who control much of the area in the north had put blockade in the food supply to Yemen. For a country heavily dependent on foreign aid, that clearly meant brutally starving the people to death. It is thus a disgrace to humanity; the way food is being used as a powerful, yet subtle weapon for mass destruction by various war-struck countries to counter the common people of the opposite side.
Picture Credits : wvi.org