Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


The Atrocity of Hunger can be Averted for Millions in Somalia

Helene J. Sinnreich

“Never Again,” the campaign to end extreme hunger emerged out of the 2011 famine in Somalia, yet today, in Somalia, seven and a half million people are facing food shortages while over 200,000 people are experiencing a level five famine with the numbers expected to rise dramatically in the next few months. The name – “never again” – evokes the horrors of the Holocaust and calls on the moral consciousness of the world to work towards preventing mass death and starvation. However, despite the call, just as genocides have followed the Holocaust, famine has followed the Never Again campaign.

Much will be written in the coming months about the many factors which have come together to cause food insecurity in Somalia and a variety of regions: changing crop yields due to climate change, disruptions caused by Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, and the resulting rises in cost for food. However, mass suffering in Somalia is not due to a shortage of food. This vulnerable situation can always be addressed with humanitarian aid. We have the technology to deliver food anywhere in the world to prevent starvation and yet deadly famines persist because fighting parties are deliberately cutting off access to food. In the modern age, famine is not an act of God but an act of war.

In Somalia, hunger is being weaponized. This is not a new war tactic – siege warfare which starves out the enemy through preventing food to reach the opposing side, or armies that loot food stores leaving the civilian population as collateral damage persists across time period. This is why one key feature of the Never Again program to end extreme hunger included reducing armed conflict.

The destruction wrought by these tactics is not limited to the physical and mental harm caused by hunger. Famine conditions wreak havoc on communities. This is the true atrocity of hunger: the transformation of the society during the famine. Starvation causes communities to be destabilized as people flee the area, causing overall population loss and displacement.  Families break down as impossible choices about who should receive limited food and resources are made. Property is devalued and sold off, creating economic hardships for those who survive. Individuals’ morals are challenged as theft and other crimes are committed to survive.

All of this is preventable. Scholars of famine have long been able to see the signs that a period of food insecurity is going to turn into a famine. Unfortunately, all too often it is not until large numbers of people are dying from lack of food that aid efforts begin in earnest. Famine watchdogs are signaling that without interventions, mass death by starvation is imminent for millions in Somalia between October and December.  Action is needed now before more people die. We have the ability to deliver food and prevent the famine in Somalia from spreading. We must mobilize now against hunger.

The Atrocity of Hunger by Helene J. Sinnreich

About The Author

Helene J. Sinnreich

Helene J. Sinnreich is director of the Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is co-editor-in-chief of the academic jou...

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