Background (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Some groups deny that continuing global warming will lead to famine, arguing that the warmer climate exerts beneficial effects on food production and that the increased carbon dioxide (CO2) production from global warming serves as a fertilizing agent for plants, The majority of research, however, paints a very different picture. Numerous researchers associated with respected organizations conclude that climate change is real and that it is possible to predict when and where the most severe famines are likely to occur.
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Findings of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Established in 1990, the Hadley Centre has been located in Exeter, England, since 2003 and has been recognized for the quality of the research on climate change carried out by its more than 150 scientists. In 2006, it predicted that about one-third of the Earth will become desert by 2100, as a result of drought and its consequent desertification. Those areas of the world that are already victims of drought, such as Africa, will likely experience the most severe effects. The people predicted by the Hadley Centre to be the first victims of world climate change, called “climate canaries,” will be about three million pastoral nomads in northern Kenya. A way of life that has been sustained for thousands of years therefore faces eradication. Myriad herders have forsaken their traditional way of life to settle in Kenya’s northeastern province after their livestock were decimated. The situation is not limited to Kenya: At least eleven million people are affected from Tanzania to Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.
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Predictions of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) likewise predicts the most severe impact of diminished food production and resulting famine to occur in African countries below the Sahara Desert. desertification could result in an increase of as many as 90 million hectares of arid land, an area almost four times the size of Britain. The FAO’s predictions are not limited to Africa: Sixty-five developing countries, including more than half of the total population of the developing world in 1995, are expected to lose around 254 million metric tons of potential grain production because of climate change. Nor are the “extreme weather events” limited to drought and desertification. Flooding will bring devastating effects as well. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, more than six hundred floods have caused $25 billion in damage, a substantial amount of which includes the loss of some 254 million metric tons of potential cereal production. Another FAO study reported that at least ten million people in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Swaziland are threatened with starvation; even at harvest time, a serious food crisis persists.
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Scholze’s Predictions (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Mark Scholze of Bristol University has conducted research for the organization Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System (QUEST) involving world climate simulation predictions through the twenty-first century based on sixteen climate models. He poses several scenarios regarding fire, flood, and famine by the year 2100 and predicts that effects of an average of 2° Celsius in global temperature rise are inevitable and will cause deforestation of up to 30 percent in parts of Europe, Asia, Canada, Central America, and Amazonia. Freshwater shortages, likely due to drought, can be expected with a rise of between 2° and 3° Celsius in parts of West Africa, Central America, southern Europe, and the eastern United States. As trees are lost, tropical Africa and South America will be subject to flooding.
Should a 3° temperature increase occur, an even more dangerous scenario is likely: As temperatures rise, plants may begin to grow more vigorously and take up more carbon oxide from the air. When saturated, the ecosystem begins to respire more than it is taking up. Scholze’s data, which are in line with findings of the Hadley Centre, indicate that this tipping point could arrive by mid-century. These phenomena would cause a decrease in worldwide cereal crop production of between 18 million and 363 million metric tons and put 400 million more people in famine conditions. Scholze insists that fossil fuel combustion must...
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Context (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
During the past two million years, the climate on Earth has alternated between cooling and warming. Thus, one might question the concern during the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries over global warming. The concern arises, because the Earth is growing warmer faster than it has in the past, as more greenhouse gases (GHGs) are released into the atmosphere. Over one hundred years ago, people worldwide began using more coal and oil for homes, factories, and transportation, thereby releasing CO2 and other GHGs into the atmosphere. Scientific data reveal that during the past century, the world’s surface air temperature increased an average of 0.6° Celsius. Even one degree can affect Earth’s climate.
Heavier rainfall is causing flooding in some areas, while there is extreme drought in others, resulting in famine. The first half of the twentieth century was not unusual: The period of 1900 to 1939 brought mild winters, characteristic of a high North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) condition. However, in the 1950’s, the global average temperature fell, and some thought an ice age was imminent. Then, the NAO suddenly flipped to high, and some scientists declared that the warming was a permanent phenomenon because of humans’ promiscuous use of fossil fuels. If so, the likelihood of famine remains a constant.
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Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Bazzaz, Fakhri, and Wim Sombroek. Global Climate Change and Agricultural Production. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996. Thirteen essays address various aspects of global warming and their effects on agriculture. Numerous tables and charts.
Cline, William R. Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country. Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2007. Introduction identifies the risk to agriculture as an important effect of global warming. Surveys global warming literature. Discusses the key issues of carbon fertilization, irrigation, and trade and makes numerous climate projections at the country level in addition to providing tables of impact estimates.
McCaffrey, Paul, ed. Global Climate Change. New York: H. W. Wilson, 2006. Divides discussion into four sections that address the greenhouse effect, rising tides and other effects of global warming, future prospects, and possible amelioration. Explores the science supporting global warming, as well as the arguments of skeptics. Includes the text of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Bibliography and index.
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Famine (Encyclopedia of Public Health)
Famine is defined as an extreme shortage of food or lack of access to food by a population, accompanied by an increase in death rates. Deaths during famine occur not only due to malnutrition, but also from infectious diseases to which malnutrition predisposes the population and from the social ills brought about by food shortage. Famine is a true public health emergency, and unfortunately has been a common human experience throughout history. The fundamental menace of famine is expressed in the Biblical reference to the "four horsemen of the apocalypse"eaning famine, pestilence (disease), war, and death.
There have been thousands of famines over the last several centuries. The causes have included natural disasters such as droughts and floods; war, civil strife, and population displacement; and economic failure. In spite of the fact that worldwide food production has improved in the past several decades, and that global food supplies are sufficient to feed the world's current population, an estimated 20 percent of people in developing countriesore than 800 million peopleack access to enough food on a regular and predictable basis. The number of countries experiencing severe food shortages has almost tripled since 1990. Compared to poverty, which is the most common cause of malnutrition worldwide, famine is preventable. Access to food has been repeatedly recognized as a basic human right. Promotion of this right requires international cooperation and a coordinated effort.
CAUSES OF FAMINE
The immediate causes of famine are inadequate food production or market availability, price fluctuations, and limited household assets. Underlying causes, however, almost always involve misguided or deliberate public policy, repressive political systems, or natural or human-caused disaster. In countries with preexisting widespread poverty, unemployment, or debt, natural and human-caused disasters are the most common causes of food shortages and famine. Additionally, hunger has been often used as a deliberate weapon. Access to food is such a basic human need that control of the food supply translates into direct political and economic power. Over and over again in history, specific populations have been the victims of an interruption of their food supply with the intent to subdue them or drive them away.
An example of the chain of events that leads to a "natural" famine (not the direct result of war or civil strife) is a poor harvest due to a drought or flood, resulting in reduced wages and rising food prices. The overall result is a decline in both food availability and food access.
Large famines caused millions of deaths in the early 1930s in the Ukraine, and in 1959961 in China; both occurred due to policies that resulted in reduced food availability. One of the most recent tragedies with regard to food shortage began in the mid-1990s in North Korea, where a steady economic decline and a series of floods, droughts, and failed harvests was superimposed on the economic blow brought about by the abrupt end of preferential trade with the former Soviet Union. A closed governmental system has limited humanitarian aid in this situation.
War and civil strife are two of the greatest causes of famine. Armies destroy crops and consume available food. Mass migration is also common for those living in war zones. Civil wars often cause famine, as everyone within the country is affected. Famines due to war occurred in Holland in 1945, the Sudan in 1988, Somalia in 1991, and a large famine in Zaire in 1991 was due to civil war. Severe food deprivation characterized the ethnic conflict in the Great Lakes region of Africa in the late 1990s. The Bosnian war of 1998 included deliberate interruption of the flow of basic food supplies to the Kosovar population.
Finally, there are several parts of the world where famines occur on a regular basis. Much of Africa and Southeast Asia are subject to repeated food shortages. Nations in these areas are chronically vulnerable to changes in weather, or they have unstable political situations. India suffered recurrent famines up until the time of independence from colonial rule in the midwentieth century, but has not experienced a major famine since that time, illustrating that prevention is possible even in chronically famine-prone areas.
CONSEQUENCES OF FAMINE
The consequences of famine are physical, psychological, social, and economic. Malnutrition results from food shortage within weeks. Children fail to grow and cannot learn in school, and both adults and children experience weight loss, lack of energy, and decreased work ability. Permanent blindness can result from vitamin A deficiency that accompanies a deterioration of dietary quality. Malnutrition also puts people at a high risk of dying from common infectious illnesses. Diseases such as measles, malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhea are the most common causes of death during famine. Psychological impacts result from fear and uncertainty about having enough to eat or to feed one's family. Socially, migration is a common occurrence during periods of famine, and resettling in other areas or in refugee camps disrupts social relationships and hierarchies. Lack of food also creates disharmony as people resort to desperate measures (such as stealing) in order to eat, or when old conflicts are renewed due to some groups having more food than others. Losing land ownership and selling valuable assets such as livestock, jewelry, or other goods can prevent families from recovering financially after a famine.
RESPONSES TO FAMINE
Responses to famine take place at the individual, governmental, and international level. At the individual level, families go through a series of progressively more drastic coping behaviors. First, food consumption becomes more restricted, and households attempt to generate more income to purchase food. Adults will usually restrict their own food consumption in order to protect children. Typically, adults take on extra jobs and unemployed family members enter the labor force to earn additional money. If the stress continues, families borrow or accept donations from friends, relatives, or government agencies, and they may sell household items, livestock, or even vital assets such as seeds and land in order to obtain money to buy food. In extreme cases, people leave their homes and migrate to other areas in order to survive.
Responses at the government level depend upon how early an impending famine is detected and how prepared a government is to respond to the situation. For example, in Rajasthan, India, there is a governmental system of grain storage that can be distributed during periods of shortage. There are also programs in place for public works projects so that people can work for food during a crisis period. Furthermore, investment in roads, trains, and communications helps get food to people faster in times of need. In contrast, most of sub-Saharan Africa has little in the way of effective government antifamine plans and policies. Most of the sharing and distribution of food reserves takes place on an individual or community basis, and most countries do not have food stocks to distribute in case of emergency. Food must be imported, which is expensive, or countries are forced to rely on international food aid when famine threatens.
Many organizations provide food aid to countries and individuals during famines. The World Food Programme of the United Nations is the largest international mechanism for providing food aid where it is needed; up to date information can be found at the program's web site, http://www.wfp.org. The Hunger Site, at http://www.thehungersite.com, provides a world map where each click on a location is linked to donations from multiple donors to the World Food Programme. Many other governmental and nongovernmental organizations are also involved in responding to food emergencies as they arise.
Famine can be prevented in several ways. One strategy is to pay more attention to environmental issues, such as the rotation of crops to help to keep the soil rich in nutrients or maintaining vegetative growth in fields year-round to keep soil from being blown or washed away. New agricultural technologies, including new fertilizers and pesticides and genetically improved crops, can also help avoid famine without harming the environment. Storing food during years of good harvest and redistribution of extra food and seeds to those who need them is another way of maintaining a food reserve. Finally, communication and coordination among communities and governments in need is essential to help prevent famine. Governments in famine-prone areas need to be able to predict in advance what areas may be vulnerable, assess needs, obtain food and necessary supplies, and transport these items to food-short areas in a timely manner. In Africa, a system called the Famine Early Warning System has had success in famine prevention. This program uses several methods to assess impending risks of famine. The program monitors weather in Africa and uses satellite photographs to see if plants are healthy or deteriorating. It also monitors crop growth, food availability, and prices in local markets.
Famines due to "natural" causes can be avoided through coordinated effort to keep governments and people alert and prepared and to provide mechanisms for people to get food when they need it. Food emergencies caused by war, civil strife, and political will depend on recognition of and respect for the fundamental right to food as a basic human right, and on enforcement of this principle in international law.
GAIL G. HARRISON
(SEE ALSO: International Health; Nutrition; Politics of Public Health; Poverty and Health; Refugee Communities; Right to Health; War)
Action Against Hunger (2001). The Geopolitics of Hunger, 2000001: Hunger and Power. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (1998). The Right to Food in Theory and Practice. New York: United Nations.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service (1992). "Famine-Affected, Refugee and Displaced Populations: Recommendations for Public Health Issues." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 41:16.
Famine (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Human history is replete with occurrences of famine causing death by starvation of hundreds of thousands or even millions. Some famines have had their origin in environmental problems such as long periods of drought or exceptional floods; other were provoked by human action. Whatever the causes of origin, however, in the modern world famine can be prevented, which may not always have been possible in the past. When famine still occurs, it is either a result of deliberate action intended to cause starvation, serious mismanagement, bad or nonresponsive government failing to respond adequately to natural disasters, or lack of sufficient international cooperation in redressing a threatening situation. Some provoked famines may legally be characterized as genocide or crime against humanity, but the problem of famine goes far beyond such cases.
Concept of Famine
The term famine is usually reserved to describe a condition that is temporary and extreme. It is temporary in that it constitutes a departure from the normal conditions in the area or for the particular group affected, and it is extreme in the sense that the number of persons affected by starvation is much higher than normal.
Most famines affect mainly the poorer and most vulnerable population, often those who for a variety of reasons are "food insecure" in advance. Some of the provoked famines, particularly those that can be classified as genocide, are targeted at persons belonging to one or more particular national, racial, or ethnic groups.
Famine is therefore distinguished from conditions of chronic hunger. In the past there have always been, and there continue to be, large groups of people who suffer from severe undernutrition due to insufficient access to adequate food. The percentage of the world population suffering from chronic hunger has undoubtedly been significantly reduced over the centuries, but the number is still staggeringly high. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that in 2003 the number of food insecure (undernourished) was 798 million, and the number of undernourished people continues to steadily increase in South Asia and Central Africa.
Causes of Famine
Even when conditions of famine exist, the problem in the contemporary world is not an overall lack of food. Famine emerges when a significant number of persons are physically or economically barred from access to food. They may be physically barred through deliberate action by some who have the power to do so, such as during the existence of the Warsaw ghetto (1941942) or the siege of Leningrad (1941944), or because of the unavailability of transport, which makes it impossible to bring the food to those who need it. They may be economically barred because they do not have the means to purchase food that is available on the market, either because they live from subsistence agriculture and have no income to purchase food when their own production fails, or because their other sources of income have failed or the prices have skyrocketed so they are no longer able to purchase what they need. Amartya Sen, awarded the Nobel Prize in
In discussions of the causes of famine, it has been common to classify them as either natural or manmade. The famines considered to be caused by natural events are those originating from an extreme or long spell of drought, or excessive floods, or a disease on the staple food plant (i.e., the Irish famine). Manmade famines are, primarily, those that have been deliberately provoked, or caused by war or conflict even if the starvation was not intended, or those resulting from extreme mismanagement, such as the Chinese famine of 1958 through 1962. At closer inspection, however, one recognizes that every famine transpiring in modern times has had a manmade element (or elements). This is important to recognize, because it implies that conditions of famine can be prevented or stopped in their infancy, provided appropriate rules of responsibility and accountability are in place. Neither droughts nor floods nor plant diseases can always be prevented, but their consequences in terms of famine can.
The ability to prevent famines has not always existed in the past. Although many records of preventive and relief measures date far back in history, conditions were not such that widespread starvation could be prevented when there were major spells of drought or floods. In times or areas where subsistence agriculture dominated, general food insecurity was widespread and little surplus was available to help those affected by major natural disasters; nor were there transport possibilities to bring food from afar, if stocks did exist. Provoked famines were also common, including the use of siege to starve the defendants of stronghold in feudal times. Frequent and extensive wars ravaging vast areas, such as the Thirty Years' War, also brought starvation to many as a consequence of both the disruption of production and extensive pillage of cattle or food produced.
Famines in History
Provoked famines were part of the European conquest and settlement of the Americas. The ethnic cleansing of Native Americans to seize land for the colonizers and settlers included wars, the destruction of their sources of livelihood such as the deliberate encouragement of hunting to decimate the bison on the American plains, and death marches such as the Trail of Tears. In South America the use of slave labor under famine conditions led to the massive death and decimation of the indigenous population.
One of the worst famines in modern times in the Western world was the Irish famine of 1846 through 1849. It started as the result of a prolonged potato blight that over several years caused the nation's potatoes to rot. While this occurred not only in Ireland but also in other parts of Europe, it had a devastating impact in Ireland. Four factors caused the disease to become a tragedy of enormous proportions: As a result of the British occupation and Cromwell's wars, most of the Irish were peasants engaged in subsistence agriculture. The potato was their staple food. They had little income beyond whatever minuscule incomes they could make from the sale of the potato and other farm products. Second, they did not own their farmsteads, but were tied to Protestant or British landlords who insisted that they should continue to pay their rent even when no income could be obtained. As they could not
Not only were the rights of property sacred; private enterprise was revered and respected and given almost complete liberty, and on this theory, which incidentally gave the employer and the landlord freedom to exploit his fellow man, the prosperity of nineteenth-century England had been unquestioningly based.
The influence of laissez-faire on the treatment of Ireland during the famine is impossible to exaggerate. Almost without exception the high officials and politicians responsible for Ireland were fervent believers in non-interference by Government, and the behavior of the British authorities only becomes explicable when their fanatic belief in private enterprise and their suspicions of any action which might be considered Government intervention are borne in mind (1961, p. 54).
Subjected to absentee landlords and this fervent ideology espoused by the government controlling them, the Irish were doomed. Governmental inaction in the face of certain economic dynamics, coupled with marginal and misplaced efforts to give some relief, caused one million persons to die from starvation and related illnesses; nearly two million emigrated, a large part of them to the United States. Ireland's population dropped from eight million people before the famine to five million in the years following it.
Severe famines originating in droughts or floods occurred in India under British rule, during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Although some modest remedial action was taken by the British through measures required under the Famine Codes previously established by them, hundreds of thousands starved to death. Once again, one of the main problems was the ruling government's strong faith in the laissez-faire principle. The export of grain from India was fully permitted even when famines raged.
The last major famine during British rule was the Bengal famine in 1943. It was not a result of any environmental or other natural disaster, but of policies and measures adopted due to the ongoing war and the advance of the Japanese armies. A war boom had emerged in Calcutta due to the high military presence and various military preparations, from which a part of the population profited. On the other hand, a scarcity of food emerged as a consequence of several factors, including Japan's occupation of Burma, one of the traditional sources of rice imports. While food existed in other Indian provinces, self-regulating food control powers given to the provinces in 1941 hindered supplies to Bengal at affordable prices. As a consequence of the increased purchasing power in Calcutta at a time of scarcity, the price of rice increased significantly. The losers were the landless rural workers and many of the traditional fishermen population who lost the ability to fish due to restrictions related to wartime conditions. The Famine Codes, which had been adopted by the British in the previous century, were never invoked during the Bengal famine in 1943; they were, in fact, deliberately ignored. It has been estimated that some three to five million people perished during the famine. To a large extent this could have been prevented by appropriate and resolute government action, had a responsive government, democratically accountable to those affected by the threatening famine, been in place.
The Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Young Turk regime in the final years of the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1918 included death marches with massive starvation on the way. In a 1999 review of other manmade or provoked famines of the twentieth century, Fiona Watson describes the allied blockade of Germany during World War I, the Soviet (mainly Ukrainian) famine from 1932 to 1934, conditions in the Warsaw ghetto from November 1940 to July 1942, the siege of Leningrad from September 1941 to January 1944, the Chinese famine from 1958 to 1962, and the Sudan famine of 1998. The Soviet famine of 1932 and 1933, which hit Ukraine the hardest, resulted from the enforced collectivization of agricultural production as part of the five-year plan launched by Joseph Stalin. The plan met intense opposition particularly from the self-owning farmers (kulaks) in Ukraine, some of whom engaged in armed resistance in response. The response by Stalin was ruthless; a combination of massive, outright killing and extensive food deprivation ensued. Agricultural production plummeted and fell by 40 percent, and most of the food produced was forcibly seized. The Soviet Union doubled its grain exports to raise currency for equipment for industrialization, while famine ravaged rural Ukraine. Stalin prohibited relief grain to be delivered to Ukraine in order to break the backbone of his opposition. The conditions were horrible and even cannibalism is reported to have occurred. It is estimated that somewhere between five and eight million people died during the famine.
Starvation was also extensively used by both German and Japanese forces during World War II, partly as a deliberate component of the Holocaust, partly by taking the food resources of the civilian population in occupied territories to feed the occupying army.
From 1940 to 1942 the Warsaw ghetto was an early measure in the Holocaust conducted by Hitler's Germany against the Jews. Following the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the German occupants confined some 380,000 Jews in a small section of the city of Warsaw. Others were soon relocated there, and the population subsequently increased to 445,000. A wall was then built around the ghetto. The Jews were prohibited from leaving the ghetto at risk of being shot on sight. By 1941 the official Nazi ration allowed 2,613 kilocalories (kcal) per day for Germans in Poland, 699 kcal for Poles, and 184 kcal for Jews in the ghetto. The German intention was to destroy the ghetto's inhabitants through mass starvation and related infectious illnesses. Mortality increased steeply. Nevertheless, the Germans did not succeed in starving all the ghetto's residents, partly because outside groups were able to smuggle in some food. In July 1942 the Germans took the next step in the Holocaust by deporting the Jews to the gas chambers of Treblinka and Auschwitz.
The siege of Leningrad by German forces from September 1941 to January 1944 lasted for nine hundred days. The siege made supplying food extremely difficult. The German Luftwaffe prevented airlifts, and transport over land was highly precarious and severely limited. During the period of the siege the city was incessantly bombarded from the air and by artillery. The bombardment also destroyed many food storehouses. It is estimated that deaths due to starvation numbered somewhere between 630,000 and 1 million people. The prewar population of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) had been some 2.5 million persons.
The famine causing the greatest number of deaths during the twentieth century was the catastrophic Great Leap Forward of Mao Zedong's China, from 1958 to 1962. It had some similarities with Stalin's provoked famine in Ukraine in 1932, but was not pursued with the same targeted brutality. The number of deaths, however, was much higher. Like Stalin, Mao wanted to achieve industrialization through a vast increase in steel production, while at the same time "modernizing" agriculture for grain export and feeding the workers of the expanding industrialization. Peoples' communes were established, private plots were abolished, and obligatory state procurement of grain at low prices was institutionalized. In the midst of the enforced transformation of agriculture, several natural disasters occurred. Coupled with the disarray resulting from the enforced transformation, this caused grain output to fall dramatically. The local representatives of the authorities did not dare to report the truth, but falsely insisted that harvests had increased substantially. The state procurement was set at 40 percent of the alleged output, which meant that in some places the whole harvest was seized. As a result, large parts of the rural population had little or no access to food. Famine soared in the countryside, but Mao and other leaders appear to have been misled by their own propaganda and by fabricated reports submitted by local party officials, making the Chinese authorities believe that they had many millions of tons of grain more than what was actually on hand.
During the final decades of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first century, Central and Southern Africa have been the regions of the world most affected by, and most likely to experience, famine. Many of these famines were caused or influenced by armed conflict: Biafra in 1969, Ethiopia in 1984, Angola from 1995 to the present, Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2000 to 2003. Others were the result of droughts or floods combined with severe mismanagement and political manipulation, such as the famine that occurred in Zimbabwe from 2001 to 2003, when food was used as a weapon by preventing the access of food relief to persons who do not support the incumbent government. In Southern Africa the HIV-AIDS epidemic has emerged as a new factor seriously increasing food insecurity and the famine risk in the region.
Responsibility and Accountability under International Law
Famines and starvation are often manmadey intent, mismanagement, or bad governance. Even when the origin is a severe environmental deterioration or other natural phenomena, it is possible to prevent its evolution into a famine. This section examines the issue of responsibility under international law for acts or omissions causing famine.States have the primary responsibility for compliance with international law. Part of that responsibility is to criminalize acts and omissions where required by
Humanitarian law in armed conflict is primarily based on the four Geneva Conventions adopted in 1949 and the two Additional Protocols adopted in 1977. The main function of this law is to ensure that the parties to international conflicts, and to a somewhat lesser extent in internal conflicts, respect the civilian population, prisoners of war, the sick and wounded, and other military personnel who are no longer taking part in the hostilities.
Additional Protocol I, Article 54, deals with protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Its paragraph 1 prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, whereas paragraph 2 states that it is a crime to attack, destroy, remove, or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.
It is quite obvious that many of the measures adopted in past wars would fall under this provision, had it then existed. The German siege of Leningrad, including the shelling and bombardment destroying the food supplies, the extensive confiscation of food resources in the occupied territories, and the scorched earth policies applied by retreating German forces in northern Norway due to the advance of Soviet forces in 1944 and 1945, would all have constituted violations of Article 54.
The rule did not exist during World War II, however. The Additional Protocols were adopted only in 1977, while a first beginning had been made with the Fourth Geneva Convention adopted in 1949, which addressed the protection of the civilian population in occupied territories. Article 23 of that convention provides for assistance to be given to the most vulnerable categories of the civilian population, particularly in the form of foodstuffs. During the Nuremberg Trials, the destruction or removal of foodstuffs on a large scale, leading to starvation of the affected population, was held to be a crime against humanity and was included among the offenses for which several of the Nazi and Japanese leaders were found guilty. Examples may be found in Gabrielle Kirk McDonald and Olivia Swaak-Goldman's Substantive and Procedural Aspects of International Criminal Law, Volume II.
Additional Protocol II, regarding noninternational armed conflicts, contains in its Article 14 a similar prohibition of the starvation of civilians as a method of combat and the same type of acts as described above. This can also be considered a specific application of common Article 3 to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which imposes on parties to the conflict the obligation to guarantee humane treatment for all persons not participating in hostilities and, in particular, prohibits violence toward life.
Among the acts constituting genocide is the deliberate infliction of conditions of life on a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group calculated to bring about the destruction, in whole or in part, of the group. Under this heading fall measures such as denying members of a group food, water, shelter, health care, and other necessities of life. Provoked famine that targeted in a systematic way the members of a group would clearly constitute genocide, as was extensively done during the Third Reich Germany. The creation of, and conditions in, the Warsaw ghetto would be one such obvious case.
The Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT), on which the Nuremberg Trials was based, did not include the category of genocide, but used the terms crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Many of the actions committed by those defendants convicted under crimes against humanity would now more properly fall under the category of genocide.
There are strong reasons to argue that the lack of access to food resulting from the death marches perpetrated against the Armenian population by the Young Turk regime toward the end of the Ottoman Empire was also an intended genocide, even though this claim is hotly contested by the Turkish government (Charny, 1999). Representatives of indigenous peoples also consider many of the measures of ethnic cleansing perpetrated against Native Americans, including famines, to have constituted genocidal action.
In addition, the severe deprivation of food has a devastating impact on the mental capacity of persons, in particular children. Such acts, directed against a group as defined in the 1948 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, would therefore also be held to cause serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group.
Crimes against Humanity
The term crimes against humanity was first used in a codified way as basis for the jurisdiction of the IMT in its prosecution of major Nazi war criminals (the Nuremberg Trials) and has since been elaborated through the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) and particularly the statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Under the ICC Statute, Article 7, crimes against humanity includes any of the acts listed there when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack. As distinct from genocide, it is not limited to cases where a particular group is targeted. No discriminatory intent is required. As an example, the extermination policies of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia were directed at all groups, including the majority Khmer population. Even if the action to that extent could not have been defined as genocide, it is clearly a case of crimes against humanity. Second, in contrast to the Nuremberg Trials, to bring measures within the ambit of crimes against humanity under the ICC Statute, they do not have to be committed during an armed conflict.
Among the acts listed in ICC Statute, Article 7, constituting a crime against humanity are "extermination," "deportation or forcible transfer of population," and "other inhuman acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or to physical health." But in order to be held as a crime against humanity, the act must be part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population. It must be an active attack, thus not only the neglect of a country's duty to take remedial action when a significant number of people lose their access to food as a result of a natural disaster or economic developments. Although the Soviet famine of 1932 in Ukraine today would be labeled as genocide or a crime against humanity, the Chinese famine from 1958 to 1962 would not be so labeled, because it was clearly not an intended attack on the civilian population. Similarly, neither the Irish famine from 1846 to 1849 nor the Bengal famine from 1943 to 1944 could, even under present international law, be labeled as genocide or crimes against humanity.
Human Rights Law
State obligations under conventional international human rights law exist on three levels: the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights concerned. All these levels are relevant in regard to the prevention of famine. State parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have recognized under Article 11 of that covenant the right of everyone to adequate food and the fundamental right of freedom from hunger. This establishes a set of obligations on states that, if fully implemented, would prevent famines from arising. These obligations have been clarified in General Comment No. 12 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (The General Comment can be found at the website of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, under Documents, Charter-based bodies, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.)
Amartya Sen, probably the leading expert on the study of famines, argues in his 1999 Development as Freedom that "appropriate policies and actions can indeed eradicate the terrible problems of hunger in the modern world. Based on recent economic, political and social analysis, it is, I believe, possible to identify the measures that can bring about the elimination of famines and a radical reduction in chronic undernourishment" (p. 160).
It should be added that this would require a general recognition of the responsibility by governments and the international community to ensure the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. This will not only require responsive governments at the national level, making full use of the economic, political, and social insight referred to by Sen, but also a corollary duty of outside states and international organizations to assist the affected states in meeting their responsibility, in line with their commitment under the UN Charter, Articles 55 and 56. This international responsibility is gradually being recognized, although still imperfectly. The World Food Programme and a host of humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross and Red Crescent, play a major role, but more commitment and coordination will be required to make famines truly a problem of the past.
SEE ALSO Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and the Armenian Genocide; Armenians in Russia and the USSR; Death March; Kulaks; Ukraine (Famine); Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
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