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Return of famine encouraged by free market

by Ken Olende

The Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya was designed for 90,000 people.

It now holds 380,000 who have fled famine in Somalia. Aid workers are terrified this will rise to 450,000.

Their ability to distribute food is already erratic.

Famine was officially declared in parts of Somalia this week. Over ten million people across eastern Africa are threatened.

Donations from the British public to an emergency appeal have already topped £20 million.

In the short-term NGOs can challenge starvation.

But in the longer term the privatisation of humanitarian aid is part of the problem. It is the flip side of International Monetary Fund demands that everything should be privatised.

Famine is the most extreme example of the chaos of the worldwide system of food production and distribution.

Economist Amartya Sen has investigated previous famines in the Horn of Africa.

Drought

His research shows that drought kills cattle and crops, which leads to farmers being unable to get money to buy food.

While food production does go down, famine is caused by lack of money to buy the food that is available.

At the same time food prices have risen dramatically. Wholesale prices of staple foods in Kenya have gone up by 160 percent over the past year.

Capitalism’s failure to provide basic nutrition is so clear that even the mainstream charity Oxfam said in a report in June this year:

“Hunger, along with obesity, obscene waste, and appalling environmental degradation, is a by-product of our broken food system.

“A system constructed by and on behalf of a tiny minority—its primary purpose to deliver profit for them.

Handouts

“Bloated rich-country farm lobbies, hooked on handouts that tip the terms of trade against farmers in the developing world and force rich-country consumers to pay more in tax and more for food.”

This insistence that all food crops should be traded on stock markets has increased the use of speculation on food commodities as a quick way for investors to make money.

Current economic orthodoxy says that only letting the free market rip will end world poverty. David Cameron kept up this mantra on his recent trip to Africa.

Thirty years of free market structural adjustment programmes imposed by the West have increased poverty, not reduced it.


Al Shabab

Media reports complain that humanitarian intervention is blocked by the Islamist militia Al Shabab.

The militia controls much of Somalia’s countryside and sections of the capital.

Its suspicion of the West is hardly surprising. The country’s government collapsed in 1990 after it was used as a plaything in the Cold War.

The US invaded in 1992. We were told “Operation Restore Hope” would save people from starvation by “all means necessary”.

Somali people initially welcomed the US military, but this soon turned to revulsion.

On “Bloody Monday” US helicopters fired missiles into peace talks being held by Somali elders, killing at least 54 people.

Disgust united Somali factions until the US was driven out in 1993.

In 2006 the Union of Islamic Courts was finally re-establishing some kind of central government in the country. The US was terrified of Islamic control and encouraged Ethiopia to invade.

The Union’s more conservative elements split to form Al Shahab.

It built its strength in a guerrilla war to push out the occupying Ethiopians, who withdrew in 2009.


Article information

International
Tue 26 Jul 2011, 18:32 BST
Issue No. 2262
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