The Avoidable Famine: Emergency Response Must Address Root Causes of Environmental Disasters
Posted on: Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I just returned from Kenya, where I delivered emergency support to a grassroots women’s organization based in the drought-stricken northeast. The women there are struggling to provide food, water and medicines to thousands of even harder-hit famine refugees who are pouring into their parched communities from neighboring Somalia.
I felt privileged to be able to bring this life-saving aid. But I also felt angry, because this famine could have been avoided. The starvation is the result of a perfect storm of climate change, political chaos and bad economic policies: not a natural disaster, but a failure of leadership. So while we must bring urgently needed aid to the people threatened by famine, we must also work to address these underlying causes and create sustainable solutions to the crisis.
The severe drought experienced in East Africa is in part the result of climate change brought on by the unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions of far-away, richer countries. As these emissions have pushed global temperatures up and up, climate scientists have warned for years about the increased likelihood of extreme weather patterns, including droughts.
But drought alone does not produce famine. In Somalia, years of war and political instability rendered people even more vulnerable. Once, Somalia had a government that tried to build community resilience to environmental disaster. It ran a program to collect rainwater by digging reservoirs in the ground. But with the collapse of the government in 1991, the program disappeared. It was left to Somali women, traditionally responsible for providing water to their households, to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, the effects of drought and famine have been exacerbated by global speculation on food commodities that’s jacked up food prices around the world. The headlong push to deregulate global markets has hit the food chain, and hard. As traders turn huge profits, the price of survival staples like rice, corn and wheat shoots up. When drought hits, poor people who can no longer raise their own food for lack of water, can’t afford to buy it either. Again, it’s rural women, who represent the majority of the world’s subsistence farmers, who are most threatened by these policies.
Climate change, state collapse and exploitative economic policies are big problems, but they have solutions. Taming the cycle of drought requires that industrialized countries immediately and drastically reduce their carbon emissions. It’s actually less complicated than some of our elected officials would have us believe. But developing a post-carbon economy does require prioritizing human survival over short-term corporate profit.
And ensuring the survival of Somali communities will require a viable peace process, one that listens to and incorporates voices of women. Women have little representation in Somalia’s transitional government or at the negotiating table. Yet women have long played a vital role as peacemakers between clans. Because clans are the organizing unit of Somali society, and reflect both family and political ties, institutionalizing women’s peacemaking role at the national level can be a key to progress.
Finally, we need policies that recognize food as a human right, not just a commodity to be bought and sold. A broad body of human rights laws support this view and the governments of Nicaragua and South Africa, among others, have incorporated the Right to Food in their constitutions.
The Right to Food is particularly crucial to African women, who generally eat last and least when their families gather for meals—yet women grow up to 80% of the continent’s food. These women fight to feed their communities through the worst ravages of climate change and unfair economic practices. Most are stewards of the sustainable agricultural methods that now need to be developed and adapted to meet the twin challenges of feeding people and protecting the planet.
MADRE works with women in the Horn of Africa and around the world to realize sustainable solutions to climate change, political violence and harmful economic policies. Supporting their voices in their communities, countries and in the international arena is key to averting the next famine.
By Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director
Archives"Press Room" Home February 2014 January 2014 December 2013 November 2013 October 2013 September 2013 August 2013 July 2013 June 2013 May 2013 April 2013 March 2013 February 2013 January 2013 December 2012 November 2012 October 2012 September 2012 August 2012 July 2012 June 2012 May 2012 April 2012 March 2012 February 2012 January 2012 December 2011 November 2011 October 2011 September 2011 August 2011 July 2011 June 2011 May 2011 April 2011 March 2011 February 2011 January 2011 December 2010 November 2010 October 2010 September 2010 August 2010 July 2010 June 2010 May 2010 April 2010 March 2010 February 2010 January 2010 December 2009 November 2009 October 2009 September 2009 August 2009 July 2009 June 2009 May 2009 April 2009 March 2009 February 2009 January 2009 December 2008 November 2008 October 2008 September 2008 August 2008 July 2008 June 2008 May 2008 April 2008 March 2008 February 2008 January 2008 December 2007 November 2007 October 2007 September 2007 August 2007 June 2007 May 2007 April 2007 March 2007 February 2007 January 2007 December 2006 November 2006 October 2006 September 2006 July 2006 June 2006 April 2006 March 2006 January 2006 December 2005 November 2005 September 2005 August 2005 July 2005 April 2005 March 2005 November 2004 October 2004 April 2004 March 2004 January 2004 December 2003 October 2003 September 2003 June 2003 April 2003 January 2003 September 2002 June 2002 January 2002 November 2001 October 2001 September 2001 August 2001 January 2001
Kat Noel, Website & Media Coordinator
PHONE: +1 212 627 0444
MADRE & Our Partners Make News
Haiti: the neoliberal model imposed on the country is failing its citizens (The Guardian, February 5, 2014)
Human rights group slams Iraq over treatment of women in prison (Miami Herald, February 2, 2014)
New Ways to Evaluate Impact (Stanford Social Innovation Review, January 24, 2014)
Poverty, Homelessness and Gender Violence Remains High Four Years After Earthquake (Uprising Radio , January 17, 2014)
Empowering Haiti's rape survivors (CNN, January 14, 2014)