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Adegboye Olalekan Oluwadamilola

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Food Aid and Famine

The opening paragraph of a report written in 1999 by the Food and

Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) made for

grim reading:

"Almost 800 million people in the developing world do not have enough

to eat. Another 34 million people in the industrialized countries and

countries in transition also suffer from chronic food insecurity"

It is apparent that globally there is a serious problem with providing

enough food to eat to everyone that requires it.

Fig 1


The pie chart above shows the extent of the global under-nourishment

problems - and shows that 525 Million under-nourished persons are

accounted for in Asia (China, India, "Other Asia & Pacific").


This report will, by its conclusion, have studied whether 'Food aid is

(never) the answer to famine' or not. In order for this conclusion to

be firmly established, it is required that a definition for what a

famine is, and what it's causes are, is brought to the fore.

Moving on from this, we will need to investigate areas in which famine

is a regular, or even seemingly constant occurrence, where food aid

has been offered to solve the problems, and look at it's subsequent

effects, both positive and negative.

After looking at the effects of food aid provision, a look at

alternatives that have been suggested by groups such as the FAO, the

World Food Programme (WFP), and the charitable, non-government

organizations (NGOs) like Oxfam.

The conclusion I expect will, after considering the evidence

presented, show that food aid is a short term solution for some, but

will never satisfy all of the needy - and that other, long term

schemes are required in an effort to start offering food security to


Recent studies have suggested that the notion that famine means a

total food shortage, can be challenged as it appears that famine only

affects certain socio-economic groups, those commonly being poorest,

least skilled, and the unemployed. During worst times of famine, it

has been known for some food to be available at local market, but

demand is as such that the prices soon go beyond the reach of the

majority. Famine would therefore be a decline in the ease of access to

food, rather than a decline in the available food supply.

Causes of famine can be varied, from natural disasters; earthquakes,

volcanoes, flooding, and drought, to socio-economic factors such as

poor access to farmland of sufficient nutritional value to yield a

good crop, since such farmland will be highly valued, and accessible

to the more affluent, relatively speaking, of the population, leaving

those less affluent struggling, able to claim the less nutritionally

abundant farmland. The problems of inequity can often be further

exacerbated by internal conflict and war which can dislocate rural and

farming communities.

These causes could have a flip side though; flooding will obviously

destroy what crops, (if any) were in the flooded region, however its

positive effects can be that it provides silt and nutrients for the

soils which if managed well, could be advantageously used to stock for

years to come.

It was floods that led to major problems in Bangladesh, where 2 months

of flooding nationwide, which started in June 1998, left 900 million

either homeless or stranded , and resulted in an outbreak of disease

due to stagnant water. Once the waters had receded however the UN were

warning that loss of two of Bangladesh's three crops, in the floods,

would leave up to around 20 million hungry.

A ship from the World Food Program carried 50,000 Tonnes of wheat,

once the region was accessible, to assist in the $223 million worth of

aid the UN had assigned.

Floods however seem to be an annual event in Bangladesh, and no matter

how much food aid is requested year on year, to deal with the

immediate humanitarian disaster, there appears to be no preparation or

strategy on how to prevent a thorough "wash-out" of the crops.

Figure 2 (below) shows that Bangladesh rely on four vital factors in

order for famine not to hit their nation, should any one of these

'bonds', as they have been called by theorist Amartya Sen, be broken



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