Who is to blame for recurring/continued famine and poverty? The bigger picture.

Here we are again: Disturbing images of thousands of starving Somali children. Families seeking refuge in Kenya, Ethopia, and other countries in the East African Region. Those countries are already struggling to manage their own challenges, facing increasing drought periods themselves. 

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR has made an appeal to the international community for crisis relief efforts, donations are most urgently needed to address a humanitarian crisis which is already here:

“Why again?” you might ask. “Why does this never end? Haven’t we done and donated enough already in the past to help those people? Is this a never-ending story to be told over and over again?” No, there are solutions to the problem and there are also several reasons behind the numerous crises across the continent. If you really want to understand why this is happening over and over again, you need to look at the bigger picture, listen to more than just one story to it.

The United Nations’ World Food Programme gives the following reasoning, to which we added a few comments:

Food has never before existed in such abundance, so why are 925 million people in the world going hungry?

In purely quantitative terms, there is enough food available to feed the entire global population of 6.7 billion people. And yet, one in nearly seven people is going hungry. One in three children is underweight. Why does hunger exist?


Natural disasters such as floods, tropical storms and long periods of drought are on the increase — with calamitous consequences for food security in poor, developing countries.

Drought is now the single most common cause of food shortages in the world. In 2006, recurrent drought caused crop failures and heavy livestock losses in parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.

In many countries, climate change is exacerbating already adverse natural conditions. For example, poor farmers in Ethiopia or Guatemala traditionally deal with rain failure by selling off livestock to cover their losses and pay for food. But successive years of drought, increasingly common in the Horn of Africa and Central America, are exhausting their resources.

But try to think further: Why are droughts increasing? Isn’t that one of the impacts of Climate Change? And what again were the causes here?


Since 1992, the proportion of short and long-term food crises that can be attributed to human causes has more than doubled, rising from 15 percent to more than 35 percent. All too often, these emergencies are triggered by conflicts.

From Asia to Africa to Latin America, fighting displaces millions of people from their homes, leading to some of the world’s worst hunger emergencies. Since 2004, conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has uprooted more than a million people, precipitating a major food crisis — in an area that had generally enjoyed good rains and crops.

In war, food sometimes becomes a weapon. Soldiers will starve opponents into submission by seizing or destroying food and livestock and systematically wrecking local markets. Fields and water wells are often mined or contaminated, forcing farmers to abandon their land.

When conflict threw Central Africa into confusion in the 1990s, the proportion of hungry people rose from 53 percent to 58 percent. By comparision, malnutrition is on the retreat in more peaceful parts of Africa such as Ghana and Malawi.

Blaming the conflicts. But look again, why those conflicts arose in the first place. What are they about? How long to be traced back in history? Look at individual cases, on a national, regional, sometimes even local level – this is nothing to be generalized for the whole continent. And there is never only A Single Story to either of them.

Poverty Trap

In developing countries, farmers often cannot afford seeds to plant the crops that would provide for their families. Craftsmen lack the means to pay for the tools to ply their trade. Others have no land or water or education to lay the foundations for a secure future.

The poverty-stricken do not have enough money to buy or produce enough food for themselves and their families. In turn, they tend to be weaker and cannot produce enough to buy more food.

In short, the poor are hungry and their hunger traps them in poverty.

Here we would like to ask you to look at the poverty trap again on different levels. Ask about corrupt leaders in the region or in the government of the state concerned. But also ask if and how there are international efforts. If and how western governments address African leaders with offers for investments in national economies. How Europe “protects” its market from African imports, while flooding African markets with cheap products that undermine African productions. How they are keen on continuously accessing cheap natural resources which would increase in cost if African nations were enabled to add value to those resources and sell also other goods then just raw materials. How western industry lobbyists influence politicians. Just to mention a few of the levels involved.

Agricultural infrastructure

In the long-term, improved agricultural output offers the quickest fix for poverty and hunger.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2004 Food Insecurity Report, all the countries that are on track to reach the first Millennium Development Goal have something in common — significantly better than average agricultural growth.

Yet too many developing countries lack key agricultural infrastructure, such as enough roads, warehouses and irrigation. The results are high transport costs, lack of storage facilities and unreliable water supplies.

All conspire to limit agricultural yields and access to food.

But, although the majority of developing countries depend on agriculture, their governments economic planning often emphasises urban development.

Again: Also ask about trading opportunities for African Countries, the European markets still today closed for African Exports, infrastructure that has not been built in decades after independence from colonial powers. Who is to blame? Corrupt African governments only? Investment efforts that are too slow, not efficient or not existing at all? What other reasons would you raise for discussion?

Over-exploitation of environment

Poor farming practices, deforestation, overcropping and overgrazing are exhausting the Earth’s fertility and spreading the roots of hunger.

Increasingly, the world’s fertile farmland is under threat from erosion, salination and desertification.

And this appears just as a summary of some of the above mentioned. The causes accumulate to trap farmers, local markets, also affecting national markets and looping back.

On individual cases, what would you do as a farmer, having lost all your harvest to a drought, or as a herder all your cattle starved. The only way to survive for many is to clear a forest patch or occupy fertile land to make a living of it. And this will always be the solution unless there are joint efforts by local, national and international governments, not only to protect vital ecosystems, but simultaneously offering alternative ways of income to the people affected. Such approaches are already happening, but there is a need to take them to a higher level.

There is a way out of the vicious circle! It requires international efforts and honest collaborations addressing all local, regional and national levels. And the call is also upon communities, people to challenge their governments to act more efficiently – both in the northern and southern hemisphere.

We will be addressing the various challenges in upcoming articles. But we also very much appreciate any input from your side – the readers of this blog. Despite being a platform for Africans and People of African Descent to tell their stories of success or concern we also want to invite for dialogue across oceans, as the interconnected world of today allows and almost asks for that. So feel free to express your thoughts on this and also other topics. Interact. Learn. Understand better. Get to know.

And if you can: Do donate for crisis relief here for the Somali people, but also in other regions people need assistance. It is urgent and will ensure survival through the crisis… at least for some of them.

See an interactive map covering the crisis area with facts (by The Guardian online):


[Text and Comments by JoHav]

One thought on “Who is to blame for recurring/continued famine and poverty? The bigger picture.

  1. A very good article tells the story as it is, i appreciate the line” and there is never a single story to all of them”..this are just some of the reasons that contribute to the never ending vicious cycle of hunger and crisis in Africa and other parts of the world.

    I think that when a child is continuously warned against something, he either learns to stop the habit or think of it as a song with no real consequences. I connect this as the case in Kenya, the government has heard of the hunger crisis especially in the northern parts of Kenya year in year out that it does not really mean much anymore, and the residents of these areas have resigned themselves to this fate, doing nothing to stop or alleviate it. for example, when people are traveling to may be Nairobi, the road is so bad and will only get better when they reach some far away towns and at that they will exhale and say..” thanks God we have finally reached Kenya”

    Imagine a scenario where pastrolists in the northern Kenya keep at least 70% of the livestock population in Kenya supplying beef to the entire country enough for export but while i was traveling home the other day, the only thing my grandmother wanted was a kilo of meat from the city, because she cannot afford it since the price is to high in the village in comparison to the city. Who is to blame? are the pastrolists just being mean to themselves? I don’t think so, poverty pushes them to this levels.You sell a goat and you have enough to feed the family for at least a week, but a goat can only last for so long

    the Kenya Meat Commission, the Kenya Creameries Cooperative are located in Nairobi with branches in Major cities, is this really functional? i think a lot still needs to be done.
    am grateful for a lot of international efforts by agencies such as caritas, Us aid, UK aid, UN agencies, you are the remaining pillar of hope for so many out there. Many thanks for the African perspectives for bringing this out, we really need to talk about it

    Silvia Museiya
    Director, kiway foundation.

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