The famine in the Horn of Africa is not because of food shortages

Via texas in africa, Edward R. Carr explains what we know about the cause of the burgeoning famine in Somalia:

The long and short of it is that food insecurity is rarely about absolute supplies of food – mostly it is about access and entitlements to existing food supplies.  The HoA situation does actually invoke outright scarcity, but that scarcity can be traced not just to weather – it is also about access to local and regional markets (weak at best) and politics/the state (Somalia lacks a sovereign state, and the patchy, ad hoc governance provided by al Shabaab does little to ensure either access or entitlement to food and livelihoods for the population).

For those who doubt this, look at the FEWS NET maps I put in previous posts (here andhere).  Famine stops at the Somali border.  I assure you this is not a political manipulation of the data – it is the data we have.  Basically, the people without a functional state and collapsing markets are being hit much harder than their counterparts in Ethiopia and Kenya, even though everyone is affected by the same bad rains, and the livelihoods of those in Somalia are not all that different than those across the borders in Ethiopia and Kenya.

This is of course the central contention of Amartya Sen’s excellent Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Famines, defined as mass death through starvation, are the preventable consequence of bad weather – and now, as throughout history, they do not happen in functioning states with democratic governments.


About Jason Kerwin
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4 Responses to The famine in the Horn of Africa is not because of food shortages

  1. dadakim says:

    another relevant read is Michael Lofchie’s 1975 article, “Political and Economic Origins of African Hunger.”

  2. Eric L says:

    I agree for the most part. But I don’t know if we can ascribe the worseness of the famine in Somalia to the failed Somali state:

    Looking at those maps, couldn’t this famine differential happen also because of trade restrictions and costs? Trade costs will lead to inefficiencies, and if Ethiopia has more food overall (say due to greater availability of food aid or regions of the country not experiencing famine), then trade costs at the border would lead to low food prices and higher supply in Ethiopia in relation to Somalia. In addition, in a famine the Ethiopia government has an incentive to stop food shipments across the border, in order to decrease prices in Ethiopia and improve welfare of Ethiopians at the expense of raising prices in Somalia.

  3. Jason Kerwin says:

    That’s definitely an equally credible story for this particular famine. What convinces me otherwise is my prior belief, informed largely by the work of Sen (and others). This case fits neatly into the model that explains those previous disasters so well.

  4. Pingback: The famine in the Horn of Africa is not because of food shortages | Trusted pharmacy blog

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