Social, economic, and political forces are more likely to be the driving forces behind widespread starvation than drought, floods, or natural disasters. In addition, the effects of famine, even for a short period, may be irreversible in children who are malnourished during their developmental years. This paper will examine the causes that create and perpetuate famine as well as the short and long-term effects on individuals and the larger social structure. It will conclude by offering some recommendations on minimizing the severity and effects of famine. This report will reveal the man-made reasons for the mis-distribution of food around the planet and the lasting health effects it has on the children of today and the adults of tomorrow.
There are varying degrees and severities of hunger and famine that confront the people of the world. Often there are temporary and transitory conditions, such as the weather, that cause a short-term period of under-nutrition. However, in some parts of the world the problem is more severe. During the next year, as many as 6 million preschool children will die of acute starvation (Pinstrup-Anderson & Cheng, 2007). Many more children will feel the greatest long-term health effects of severe malnutrition. While the problem can be found worldwide, including the developed countries of Europe and North America, it is predominantly an issue for Africa and some parts of Asia. Almost all those affected are the rural poor who have lost social and economic access to food.
Almost universally, at the core of starvation are poverty and the inability to acquire the most basic nutritional needs. External events such as draught, floods, and natural disasters contribute to famine, but are not the driving cause. Scrimshaw (1987, p.6) noted that the widespread famine in Ethiopia during 1984 and 1985 was due to the poverty that arose from "primitive cultivation methods, as archaic land tenure system, overgrazing, exploitation of peasant farmers, lack of transport systems, and heavy bureaucracies". There was not a systemic shortage of food, but there was no economic means to acquire it and no motivation on the part of the social system to provide it. As the economic condition worsens, people sell off assets such as animals and land and are left destitute (Swift, 2006, p.45). In Bangladesh during the 1972-1975 famine, there was a wide availability of international aid that flowed into the country. However, the rural poor in Bangladesh during this period were denied even the basics due to a lack of political clout and the irregular distribution of the food supplies to the more wealthy, rather than those who did not have the money for even the barest minimum of rations (Dowlah, 2006, p.349). In the midst of an ample food supply, abject poverty will still prevent the poorest population segments from obtaining the necessary food.
While poverty is a generic factor that is almost universally at the core of famine, there are many other factors that contribute to the poverty, or exploit the poverty situation. The tragic famine that gripped Bangladesh in 1972 was made worse by a nine month long guerrilla war that devastated the existing economy. According to Dowlah (2006, p.346), "War dislocations, along with critical shortages of agricultural ingredients - seeds, fertilizer, and irrigation - prevented the proper planting of crops". The self-imposed militant isolation of North Korea