Course 6 What now?

Famines are
a thing
of the past

You are wrong!

In 2023, an estimated 345 million people faced high levels of food insecurity.

Of this overwhelming number, more than 40 million people are on the brink of famine and starvation. Without timely intervention, global food insecurity is set to worsen, leading to new famines and more people dying.

Today, famines are caused by war, conflict, political instability, climate change, extreme weather conditions, social and economic inequality, the blocking of humanitarian aid, and any combination of these factors. Hunger and starvation are still used as weapons of war.

Many people think that food insecurity and famine are the result of singular disasters, such as crop disease, droughts, or floods. But, as this course has shown you, famines are complex emergencies with multiple causes. All contemporary famines are man-made and preventable. Some are caused deliberately, others are not prevented in time or alleviated adequately. Globally, more than enough food is produced to feed everyone. The problem is distribution, not quantity.

The UN Sustainability Goal of Zero Hunger in 2030 is possible, but not without action. Below are some examples of organisations that are involved in battling famine and food insecurity.
Research and mapping

Starvation is a gradual process. Researching and tracking food emergencies can help governments, NGOs, and other organisations to respond in time. The IPC, or the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, is a tool that international experts use to measure how severe food shortages are in different parts of the world. They check food availability, the number of hungry people, and health problems caused by lack of food. They then rate the situation as “minimal,” “stressed,” “crisis,” “emergency,” or “famine” to show how urgent it is. This rating helps governments and organisations know where and how to send help during food crises.

Starvation and international law

The Rome statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) says that using starvation against civilians as a warfare tactic is a war crime. This includes blocking supplies that people need to survive, as the Geneva conventions state. Sadly, starvation is still used as a weapon in many ongoing wars and conflicts. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Global Rights Compliance specialise in international humanitarian law and identify human rights violations, including the deliberate starvation of civilians. Recent cases have been reported in Ukraine, Gaza, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan and Tigray, Ethiopia.

Local help

Although many wealthy countries are listed as food secure and not in danger of famine, people can still struggle to access food and go hungry. Local aid groups, like soup kitchens and food banks, help a lot by giving meals to those who cannot easily get food. Community kitchens not only provide meals, but also a social space in which people can cook and share a meal together. Soup kitchens, food banks and community kitchens exist almost everywhere. If you want to help or volunteer, you can look for an organisation near you.

Global humanitarian aid and action

Aid and humanitarian responses can save lives and help build a fairer, sustainable future. The UN World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, helping around 160 million people a year. Other groups, like Oxfam, also provide aid, while combating economic and social inequality to tackle long-term food insecurity.

Refugees and displaced persons

Food insecurity remains both a cause and an effect of (forced) displacement. Displaced persons and refugees are at a high risk of food insecurity. They often depend on aid organisations for their daily meals. Organisations such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) focus on helping these groups, especially by giving them food aid.

Had enough?

Education, research, commemoration, and action can help reduce famine and food insecurity worldwide.

Education, research, commemoration, and action can help reduce famine and food insecurity worldwide.To achieve this, we must learn from the past and address persistent misconceptions about famine, as attempted by the first five courses in this online exhibition.

We have learned that:

  • Modern famines never have a single cause but are always man-made, intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Famines do not affect people equally and can be exploited to divide people, create scapegoats, and hide responsibilities.
  • While there are often still things to eat during famine, these are rarely nutritious enough. 
  • Migration is barely a choice when staying means starvation, leading to the movement of people. 
  • There are many different ways, forms of and motives for responding to famine.

Past examples have shown that famine can happen to anyone, anywhere. Current research tells us who is most vulnerable and what areas are most at risk today. Organisations working within international law can raise awareness and hold accountable those who use starvation as a weapon of war. Aid and relief organisations provide resources to those in need, locally and globally, and work towards a long-term more equal and sustainable future.

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