The end of famine? Prospects for the elimination of mass starvation by political action

Elsevier, Political Geography, 2017, ISSN 0962-6298
Authors: 
Alex de Waal

Abstract

After a long-term decline in the frequency and lethality of famines, 2017 has witnessed resurgent international concern over the issue. This paper examines the trends in famine over the last 150 years, with particular attention to the fusion of famine with forcible mass starvation. It identifies four main historic periods of famines, namely: the zenith of European colonialism; the extended World War; post-colonial totalitarianism; and post-Cold War humanitarian emergencies; and asks whether we may be entering a fifth period in which famines return in new guises. The paper explores structural causes of famine vulnerability, the overlapping but distinct causes of food crises and excess mortality in those crises, and the proximate triggers of famine. While noting that almost all famines have multiple causes, with no individual factor either necessary or sufficient, the paper focuses on the growing significance of political decision and military tactics in creating famine.

Keywords

Famine; Starvation; War; Atrocity; Genocide; Humanitarianism