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Famine In Africa Essay, Research Paper

Famine has struck parts of Africa several times during the 20th century, and to this day is still going strong. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the average African consumes 2300 kcal/day, less than the global average of 2700 kcal/day. Recent figures estimate that 316 million Africans, or approximately 35 percent of the continent’s total population, is undernourished. Although hunger in Africa is hardly new, it now occurs in a world that has more than enough food to feed all its citizens. Moreover, while Africa’s population is growing rapidly, it still has ample fertile land for growing food. Hunger therefore reflects not absolute food scarcity but rather people’s lack of access to resources—whether at the individual, house-hold, comunity, or national leve that are needed to produce or purchase adequate food supplies. The reasons people cannot obtain enough food are: several different historical patterns of in equality. These patterns include the in equalities between Africa and its former colonisers or contemporary financiers, and between Africa’s rich and poor. It also includes in equality between members of the same households, where food and the resources needed to obtain it (such as land and income) are often unevenly distributed between men and women, old and young. Whatever the reasons for food deprivation, when the result is malnutrition it can do damage, increasing diseases such as malaria, rickets, anemia, and perhaps acquired immune deficiency syndrome aka AIDS Mal-nourished children suffer stunted growth and, often, learning problems. Malnourished adults have less energy to work. Over the long term, inadequate nourishment can cast communities into a cycle of sicknes, under production, and poverty.

Famine is commonly defined as “acute starvation associated with a sharp increase in mortality.” Famine in africa is not an abrupt event, nor an immediate, inevitable outcome of drought or other climatic misfortunes. Rather, research on the history of famine shows that several factors typically contribute to a societys or regions vulnerability to starvation, and that some of the causes of famine have changed significantly over the past century.

Some basic facts are: 1st, it is mostly children who die, followed by men; women’s greater biological stamina makes them most likely to survive prolonged food deprivation. 2nd, the primary cause of death is not starvation itself, but diseases such as diarrheal infection and malaria. 3rD, famine not only increases mortality rates but also decreases fertility—that means it will make birthrates go down. 4rd, famine is typically rural, because for Africa’s leaders food security in politically influential cities has almost always taken priority over rural areas. 5th the reported mortality rates from contemporary African famines are inaccurate, due partly to the difficulties of collecting such information, but also to international agencies’ tendency to exagerate figures in order to emphasize need for donor support.

A final point is that famine typically strikes only after people have exhausted a range of strategies intended to compensate for unpredictable climatic, economic, or political downturns. It is the nature and effectiveness of these coping strategies that have been most transformed by the environmental, demographic, and political-economic changes of the past century.

For example, rural communities in arid and semiarid regions have long cultivated drought-resistant crops such as millet, sorghum, and cassava, in an attempt to produce enough surplus to last several months of dry weather. Although this remains a desirable strategy for many rural dwellers, environmental degradation in some areas has reduced yields. Of greater impact has been the need to produce cash crops such as cotton, a change that leads farmers to depend more and more on markets for basic food supplies. When drought leads to crop failure, farmers may have little or no money to buy food just at the moment that grain prices are skyrocketing just like the stock market . Under such conditions rural dwellers might seek income elsewhere: through wage labor, for example, or the sale of household assets such as family heirlooms, furniture, or livestock all wich are very , sendimental. Such strategies are unlikely to work, however, in severely im poverished regions; selling assets can also increase vulnerability to future famine, if it leaves a household without draft animals or transport.

Cultivating far-ranging social relations is also a time-honored “coping strategy.” When famine threatens, rural dwellers often ask their urban relatives for money, food, employment, or temporary foster care of children. Entire families may also migrate, either to cities, neighboring countries, or, if necessary, relief camps. Abandoning home and field, however, tends to be a last-ditch strategy; by the time people migrate they may have already severely cut back on their daily food intake.

Many independent African governments have proven as unaccountable as their predecessors explains, in part, why famine still occurs in the late 20th century; war is another major reason Some famines have followed governments’ failure to respond to warning signs such as the Zimbabwean famine during the drought of 1991-1992. The Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s, for example, was caused not only by drought but also by burdensome government crop requisitions and massive forced relocation schemes in the country’s northern regions. In such instances, the lack of basic democratic institutions made it possible for famines warning signs to go unheeded, both within and beyond the country in question.

Some of the worst contemporary African famines have resulted from wartime sieges. During the 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war, the federal government of Nigeria blocked all food shipments to Biafra, leading to widespread starvation. In 1993, siege brought famine to parts of war-torn Angola. And in Sudan’s long-running civil war, the northern-based government has used its control over food shipments to weaken insurgency groups in the south.

Despite their seemingly apolitical humanitarian appeal, international food aid agencies invariably complicate the political picture. Sometimes food relief lets negligent governments off the hook; sometimes it even sustains repressive regimes. Yet 90 percent of international aid supplied Mengistu’s followers, while only 10 percent reached equally famine-stricken rebels. The famine thereby strengthened Mengistu’s grip on the country.


Encarta 2000, Yahoo.com, Altavista.com,

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