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Three famines

For a mere political decision to topple a country into famine, it has to be food-stressed already. But politics provides the final push: that’s what is killing people in Sudan, Gaza & Haiti

Gwynne Dyer Published 01.04.24, 06:09 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo.

There are three incipient famines in the world today, and politics is at the root of each of them. That’s not unusual, actually: famines are almost always political events.

My family is descended from the Irish Catholic diaspora, and when I was a boy in Newfoundland, we would sometimes play the game, ‘potatoes and point’, at the dinner table. We’d point at the potatoes (there was always a bowl of boiled potatoes with the main meal) and say “may I have a slice of beef” or “I’ll have some more carrots, please.” It was a distant echo of the Great Famine of 1845-1852 in Ireland that halved the country’s population. Potato blight killed the potatoes, but it was politics — an ideologically driven British government refused to interfere in the working of the free market by giving the starving Irish free food — that killed the people.


For a mere political decision to topple a country into famine, it has to be food-stressed already. But politics provides the final push: that’s what is killing people today in Sudan, Gaza and Haiti.

The ‘politics’ in question is generally a war of some sort — and in most cases, the starvation is a by-product of the war, not even the main event.

That is certainly the case in Sudan, the biggest of the current famines. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, nearly 18 million people in Sudan are facing ‘acute food insecurity’ as a result of the civil war that broke out in April 2023 between two rival factions of the armed forces.

Haiti’s situation is much the same. The capital, Port-au-Prince, has been overrun by armed gangs who have taken control of the port and the roads to block food supplies from entering the city. Starving people provides excellent political leverage.

While nearly 1.4 million Haitians are going without food for days at a time and there is plenty of random killing, famine is probably still several months away.

The famine in the Gaza Strip is also clearly man-made, in the sense that without the war it would not be happening. It was Hamas that started the war, intending to trigger a violent Israeli retaliation. It would then use the Palestinian victims created by that response to further its own political agenda.

It's a standard guerilla strategy, so the Israelis knew what Hamas wanted them to do. The fact that the Israeli Defense Forces did it anyway was a deliberate decision by the government. So what did the coalition government of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, hope to gain from the destruction and the food blockade?

There is a deliberate food blockade, although Tel Aviv denies it. Aerial photographs from late last month showed 2,000 aid trucks waiting to cross at Rafah. Most are still there now, containing enough food to feed everyone in Gaza. This is not incompetence but Israel's policy.

There are already children dying of starvation every day in the northern Gaza Strip, and the consensus of the IPC (a major food aid scale) is that “famine is imminent in the northern governorates of the Gaza Strip and projected to occur anytime between mid-March and May 2024.”

Random airdrops and a new pier for food deliveries by Israel’s ‘allies’ will not prevent that outcome. So is the Israeli policy merely one of taking vengeance on the innocent, or is it intended to empty the Gaza Strip of its Palestinian population?

I never thought that I would write that sentence, not because I thought Israelis were more moral than others but because I believed they were not stupid. There is nowhere else for those 2.4 million Palestinians to go, and Israel’s allies, especially the United States of America, would never condone such an act of ethnic cleansing. It’s not 1948 any more.

But then again, I didn’t think that Vladimir Putin’s regime would be stupid enough to invade Ukraine either.

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