First aired on The Sunday Edition (4/9/11)
For much of the summer, there has been distressing news coming out of the Horn of Africa. In Somalia, a terrible drought and an escalating famine have killed thousands, sent hundreds of thousands fleeing into Kenya and put millions at risk of starvation.
The famine in Somalia is unfortunately not a new story in human history. Famines and droughts have haunted humankind since we first emerged on the planet. And as distinct as each horror might seem, there does seem to be a pattern to the disasters.
Author Thomas Keneally believes he has uncovered this pattern. He details his findings in a new book, Three Famines: Starvation and Politics. For a number of years, the Australian author has been poring over accounts of the potato famine of 1840s Ireland, the Bengal famine of the 1940s and the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s.
His conclusion? "Famine is not an act of god, it is an act of man," Keneally explained to The Sunday Edition's guest host Helen Mann. "There are the same patterns of human behaviour, beginning amongst people who have too little land or who live on too marginal land and whose staples are very, very limited." Terrible conditions can bring out the worst in people and the result — greed, violence, abandonment and more — only makes the situation worse, and those who suffer the most are those who are the most marginalized.
Keneally's conclusions seem beyond belief, but they're accurate. In fact, several recent studies (including one published earlier this month in Nature Magazine) back up Keneally's findings.
So does investigative journalist Christian Parenti. Parenti is the author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence and he believes that climate change is directly tied to food shortages, famines and the violence that is often associated with famines. For Parenti, famine is not the cause of problems, it's merely a symptom. Climate change increases the probability of famine and where there's famine, there's usually violence.
"Climate change is increasingly expressing itself as violence, as religious warfare, as ethnic warfare, banditry and state repression," he explained. "All of these three factors, violence, increased poverty due to withdrawal of social safety net and now extreme weather are combining into this catastrophic convergence."
So what can we do about it? Actually, a lot. But we need to begin now.
"The only choice is for us to take climate change very seriously and begin with radical mitigation. We have to reduce our emissions precipitously beginning immediately," Parenti said. "There has to be massive investment in adaptation."
Three Famines: Starvation and Politics
by Thomas KeneallyBuy this book at:
"Famine may be triggered by nature but its outcome arises from politics and ideology. In Three Famines, award-winning author Thomas Keneally uncovers the troubling truth that sustained widespread hunger is historically the outcome of government neglect and individual venality. Through the lens of three of the most disastrous famines in modern history — the potato famine in Ireland, the famine in Bengal in 1943, and the string of famines that plagued Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s — Keneally shows how ideology, mindsets of governments, racial preconceptions, and administrative incompetence were, ultimately, more lethal than the initiating blights or crop failures."
Read more at PublicAffairs
Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence
by Christian Parenti Buy this book at:
"In Tropic of Chaos
, investigative journalist Christian Parenti travels along the front lines of this gathering catastrophe — the belt of economically and politically battered postcolonial nations and war zones girding the planet's mid-latitudes. Here he finds failed states amid climatic disasters. But he also reveals the unsettling presence of Western military forces and explains how they see an opportunity in the crisis to prepare for open-ended global counterinsurgency."
Read more at Nation Books