June 19, 2017

Five myths about famine

Written by Gayle Smith

This article originally appeared on The Washington Post.

We are facing one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War II. As the looming threat and tragic reality of famine spread across South Sudan, northern Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, 20 million people are in urgent need of food and other assistance. But even with grim reports from the United Nations’ relief agencies and images of starving children, there is widespread confusion about what famine is and what we can do to help.

Famine is caused by drought or overpopulation.

These explanations are common. For instance, CNN accounted for Somalia’s situation by noting, “The country has been hit by a severe drought that has affected more than 6.2 million people who are currently facing food insecurity and lack of clean water because of rivers that are drying up and recent years with little rain.” Others see famine as vindication for 18th-century British philosopher Thomas Malthus, who predicted that population growth would outstrip the food supply.

But the Horn of Africa has seen many droughts, and not all have resulted in famine. And the countries at greatest risk of famine today are hardly the most densely populated.

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