Famine – a natural phenomenon or a man-made disaster?


I would say it is fair to assume that the reality of outbreaks of famine exposes the limitations we have as a species; the raw power of the elements despite what technological advancements we have made is an ever present reminder of our vulnerability and that makes it truly humbling. Famines, now more so than any time in the past represent a real challenge in contemporary development enterprise; simply because of the sheer scope of devastation it generates and the human cost associated with it.  Anyone living in the developed world and paying even a murmur of attention to evening news or daily papers could be forgiven for succumbing to the convention that links the phenomenon of famines with entirely environmental explanations. This conceptualization of famines is so widespread that it has unashamedly developed as some sort of modern age truism. Unfortunately, the causes of famines and the explanation is rather more complex and multidimensional and although temperature fluctuations in our atmosphere do play a role, the subsequent dimension of starvation and human cost is linked with causes a little closer to home than might be suggested. One such book I’ve been engaged with lately is, ‘Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order’ by Michel Chossudovsky – a Canadian economist and Professor at the University of Ottawa. The book provides interesting case studies on Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans and the relationship between poverty and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programmes. In one particular case study of interest it illustrates how agricultural adjustment policies; subsidized food aid and the enforced dependence on imported grains together with currency devaluations – against the spirit of the Bretton Woods Agreement – have had a detrimental effect on both nomadic and farming communities in Africa and comparatively how such IMF adjustment policies have only ensured to exacerbate the situation wrought by famines. Without going into much detail, Chossudovsky’s writing is powerful and engaging and I would definitely implore any one to read it as it provides insight into the legacy of financial monetary macroeconomic policies.

Sticking to the same topic on IMF policies – the other night I stumbled on a programme hosted by Richard Dimbleby in which the guest speaker was none other than the current head of the IMF – Christine Lagarde. Normally I would be quite indifferent to such programmes but perhaps because I had just escaped reading Chossudovsky’s book, the lecture aroused my curiosity and therefore decided to give it a try. So, I sat there, totally fixated on her every word not wanting to miss anything – it was strangely, one of those popcorn moments. Her speech assimilated such imperialist jargon – I didn’t know whether it was how she intended it to come across or whether such use of dubious language is a cultural convention within elite monetary circles. Either way, the speech might of raised a few eyebrows – particularly amongst free thinking critics who view such monetary organizations as little more than mere criminal organizations; who habitually bleed the world’s most vulnerable nations of its own resources, simultaneously, keeping them in a seemingly sustained poverty only so that a selective minority can continue thriving in their own artificially constructed bubble at the expense of the unfortunate world majority – who for their part do not possess the appropriate cultural/ ethnic characteristics required.

In any case, much of the speech was routine and familiar – in fact it incorporated much of the development rhetoric that is evident in all speeches concerning matters of inequality, gender and the environment. With that said, however she did make a particular comment which had me thinking; the reference was to how difficult it was to devise macroeconomic policies within the IMF and how as a result of this obstacle it has manifest into an environment which results in both global winners and losers, and despite this admission she stressed of the importance to remain unwavering and determined in the pursuit of executing such policies. Such commitment and resolve invariably increased my sense of apprehension. I imagined the poor agricultural and nomadic communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and what the implications for future economic policies would mean for them. One thing is certain though, at present they constitute as the visible losers in the face of past and existing IMF adjustment programmes. And for this reason it is hard to consider them as anything other than losers in the global political economy.  


Mohamed Hussein


2 thoughts on “Famine – a natural phenomenon or a man-made disaster?

  1. I hope that in time people will be given a voice so that the world will hear them and from that people will say “I have the power to help” and help they will. I hope the PRSP’s can be a turning point for the global poor and peoples in need, so they can have their say, get used to speaking out and be a part of their own healing process… XXX
    Zoe Laker

  2. I definitely agree with Mohamed that structural adjustment policies (SAPs) has had an consequent affect on developing counties, as they have threaten national sovereignty as outsiders dictator economic policies that do not necessary reflect the needs of the people. Secondly structural adjustment policies implement privatisation in public services such as health care and education and have the control to increase prices whether those in developing countries can afford it or not. In addition, I agree with Zoe and hope that Prsps prosper theses developing countries to the benefit of the people and have a voice to their needs. Sadly the losers are these people in developing countries due to the negative effects of SAPs and neoliberal policies.
    Munira Abukar

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