Is most starvation due to corruption

I read this a few weeks ago, i don’t remember where so I don’t have a cite. But does anyone know if this has alot of truth to it? is most/much of the starvation in the world due to misappropriation of humanitarian aid (north korea and pre war Iraq), political corruption, war or political incompetence (like in Zimbabwe where Mugabe’s ineptitutde has led to starvation)?

The stereotype I always grew up with was it was due to lack of help from the western world. But I don’t know anymore how much is due to politics and how much is due to lack of funds.

As I recall, the greatest loss of food, and thus the source of most starvation is:[ul]
[li]Losses due to insects.[/li][li]Losses due to rodent spoilage.[/li][li]Lack of sufficient food preservation tech.[/li][li]Lack of transportation in undeveloped areas.[/li][li]Jughead Jones. :wink: [/li][/ul]

Corruption doesn’t affect the rains not coming, but it severely agravates the effects. Of course, you can’t say bad things about black Africans or you’ll be called racist, even though the fact that they are African and black is irrelevant. Bad politics can be another important factor - q.v. the famines following the collectivisations in Russia and China.

Perhaps an interesting corollory question would be, ‘When was the last time there was actual famine in the West?’ Possibly the Irish potato famine? 160 years isn’t bad going.

That is a good question; but it may not do the job by itself. IIRC, we don’t have locusts in the U.S. nor are we fractionalized economically and politically, plus we have a lot of prime farming real estate.

More than corruption, I would imagine that bad economics is a big factor. A lot of people still genuinely believe that tarrifs help their domestic economy (and the environment, and children, etc.) and, IIRC again, Africa, for example, has a lot of internal tariffs cloging up the flow of goods. Additionally, things like contract law and formalized ownership aren’t well developed in LDCs. (I think that’s what The Mystery of Capital is about.) Perhaps as a result of that, or perhaps not, many LDCs are lacking in markets for risk and capital that are reasonably thick & efficient. As a result, we tend to see overpopulation and decisions are not good overall. (See An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution.) Another example of bad economics is North America & Europe’s farm subsidies, and their impact on LDCs. The Economist has had quite a few articles discussing this, searching their site should yield results.

Not that corruption isn’t bad, I just don’t think that it is as pandemic across the world as we may perceive it to be. The Pre-Industrial City: Past & Present discusses cultural differences that we may, in a strict sense, view as corrupt; however I’m skeptical that social conventions such as nepotism rank on par with corruption on the scale the OP is asking about.

Though, FTR, the assertion that most starvation comes from “misappropriation of humanitarian aid (north korea and pre war Iraq), political corruption, war or political incompetence,” is almost a tautology. What else is there to cause starvation? Last year local cherry farmers lost all their sweet cherries because of a late-harvest rain, but none of them starved as a result. Why? Well we have a more-or-less non-corrupt political system set in a peaceful, economically-integrated environment with good markets and infrastructure. Why don’t these conditions obtain elsewhere? Corruption, war, and political incompetence.

There is plenty of food. The problem is distribution. Corruption is the final bottleneck on this.

So, yes, you are right in a way. IF there is a famine or a drought, the rest of the world can & will try to get enough food to those starving. Transportation is a major bottleneck, but one that can be fixed. Corruption can’t be.

In many cases in Africa, it’s not really corruption- agents of the Goverment are in one tribe, and they are deliberatly pursuing a program of killing off another tribe. Thus, they don’t want food aid to get to that rival tribe.

I don’t know if the consequences of WW2 count but the german blockade of britian so they couldn’t get food may have led to some starvation or nazi concentration camps are western famines.

I think the OP question presumes that modern day famines are preventable, and that they still happen is a matter of human corruption. They are preventable in the sense that the world food supply and transportation supply is abundant enough to deliver food where and when there are local shortfalls – providing some entity pays the bills, or the world economic structure somehow shifts to eliminate the bills altogether.

And to the extent that we have not yet created the most perfect possible paradise on Earth yet because we can’t trust each other to all pull together and all sacrifive equally, I’d agree that corruption is somewhere at the root of our problems. A lot of us have bad and unuseable sectors. :slight_smile:

Seems to me the answer so far have been quite biased. I notice for example that tarriffs have been mentionned as a failure of the african countries, but that tarriffs and farming subventions in western countries, which seriously impact the exportations and even the local production (nobody is going to buy the food you’re farming if it’s cheaper to import subsidized food from the USA or the EU) haven’t been mentionned as a major issue.
Nor has been the impact in many countries of price variations on the international markets (which can be manipulated) when said countries are highly dependant on one product (cocoa, cotton…). A single very minor decision in a develloped country (subventions to cotton producers in Spain, EU regulations allowing the use of non-cacao fats in chocolate) can have a very serious impact in some develloping countries were a slight change in the market price of a product can make all the difference between wealth and bankruptcy for dozen of thousands of local producers. And by the way, a single bad year (wheather, insects,…) can also make your country go broke when 80% of your exports are cocoa.

The huge impact of the AIDS epidemic, which decimated the adult male population in a lot of african countries, resulting in a significant drop of the agricultural production hasn’t been mentionned, either.

I’m sure there are a lot of other problems that third world countries face without having any control on them and don’t come to my mind right now. I hope some posters better informed than myself will come around, hopefully with figures, cites, documents, etc… Until now, the answers don’t look factual at all. Putting all the blame at the feet of local corrupted politicians seems quite misguided to me.

You may be mistaken on that, I included farm subsidies as an example of the sort of bad economics that has detrimental (sp?) impacts on LDCs.

I agree that placing the blame on local corruption is not useful. Indeed, I’d say it’s harmful since let’s the parties culpable believe they are innocent of massive suffering.

I was thinking about the OP and it struck me that the question sort of assumes that no starvation and privation on large scales is the norm. Sort of backwards, the question should be why isn’t North America, for example, plagued by large scale famines & privation, because the natural state of affairs really isn’t the world we in the U.S., Canada, & Europe, for example, enjoy.

The USA certainly does have locusts. And grasshoppers. And weevils and lots of other plant-eating insects.

My friend’s grandfather in Kansas had stories of clouds of locusts descending and eating everything green in sight, literally.

They go into detail about locusts causing local starvation in some of the Little House on the Prairie books as well. We have them, we’ve just developed effective ways of killing enough of them that people don’t lose whole crops very often any more…

Deforestation (stemming from poor agricultural management methods) is a cause of famine in some cases (South America), and desertification is a problem in others (North Africa).

Of course there are natural disasters that affect food production in North America and Europe. The reason that starvation in minimal is because most western countries have some sort of social support system that redistributes food and such to those in need. In countries that don’t have such a system, or where the system has been hijacked by robber barons, starvation will be more likely. NGOs like the Red Cross fill the gap somewhat, but as described above, there are often forces within governments seeking to repress/ethnically cleanse their minority populations. There are many stories (Somalia, Sudan, etc.) of grain sitting in warehouses rotting while armed guards kept out people from the “other tribe”.

Also, don’t forget that there are millions of people who are starving in North America, many of them families with two working parents.

There are many economic causes of starvation as well, and despite all the neocon propaganda you’ve read js_africanus, I don’t think tarrifs are high on the list. A more likely culprit would be the free trade agreements that ignore social factors in developing countries. You could argue that it’s incompetent to negotiate such agreements under pressure from ideological and self-interested lobby groups, ignoring the long-term global consequeces. That’s not really corruption though, just pure profit seeking unrestrained by international regulations on social standards.

I don’t have a cite to back this up Wesley Clark, but I think it’s safe to say that a great deal of starvation occurs as the result of political corruption & incompetence.

Interestingly that may not be the case with the Rocky Mountain Locust (the grasshoppers from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books) specifically. They seem to have been driven into extinction almost by accident by human driven changes of their environment:

      • Starvation in the modern world is not due to corruption so much as economics. Frederick Hayek explained it this way in one appearance: in the last few hundred years for which we have fairly-accurate economic data, there has never been a circumstance where there was not enough food produced worldwide to feed all the people worldwide. When a group of people starves, it is not because there is not enough food produced to feed them–but because for economic or political reasons, food is witheld from them. The hungry people are in one place, and the food is in another–and for economic or political reasons, food is not transported to the people, and the people are not free to leave that area and go to where food is plentiful. He also predicted some years ago that as technology developed further, we would be able to grow even more food with less input–but that this would not stop the condition of human starvation, because human starvation isn’t caused by lack of food.
  • A recent example of this was in North Korea, where at one point the N. Korean government refused donated Japanese rice, because the bags the rice was in were marked with the insignia of Japan (as all Japanese rice stocks were, they didn’t print up special bags just for this occasion)–and the North Korean government didn’t want to have their own citizens think that the government was so incompetent that they had to accept charity from another nation.

Really? Millions? How many actual, documented starvation deaths have we had this year? I would not dismiss the possibility of some starvation out of hand, but that seems to me to be an exaggeration.

We must carefully differentiate crop failures from starvation. Crop failure is a neccesary but not sufficient cause of starvation. Crop failures occur all the time, but people don’t always starve.

In moderately wealthy countries with a modern transportation system farmers whose crops have failed aren’t depending on those crops for food, they grow crops commerically not for subsistence. In modern countries crop failures may be a business disaster for the farmer, but they aren’t in any more danger of starvation than any other businessman whose business goes bankrupt. Even if the whole region experiences crop failure food from previous years will still be plentiful, food from around the world can be purchased, the country is not dependent on domestic production to feed itself.

Then there are three other cases. First, modern countries with totalitarian governments. In this case, a crop failure may mean starvation if the political authorities deem it too dangerous to import food, or to let anyone know that a crop failure is occuring. Food could be purchased on the world market, but it would be a PR disaster for the regime to let that happen. Typically cities are still supplied with food, but people in the countryside are left to fend for themselves. This is a pretty simple case where starvation is directly caused by politics.

Then there is the case of a third world country dependent on subsistence farming. A crop failure can mean starvation, but there is plenty of food aid lying around to keep people from dying. Even though people and governments in the area are too poor to buy the food they need, there is a humanitarian infrastructure in place to get food to pretty much everyone who needs it, barring extremely isolated places with very few people anyway. Sure, tribal leaders and warlords will use the food aid for their own purposes, sure some will get skimmed off and resold, but the answer is just to pump more food in and accept the corruption as the price of doing business.

But if the crop failures take place during a war then it can be very difficult to get food to people, because there are people with guns who will shoot, kill, and loot the humanitarian and refugee workers. If the relief workers are likely to be killed they can’t distribute the food. And the warlords and bandits might distribute food to their own followers, but they will certainly actively try to disrupt food distribution to enemy ethnic groups or factions.

And of course, war itself is a major cause of crop failures, because subsistence farmers abandon their fields and become refugees, or are killed, or their food stores are stolen. So food production plummets. This is what caused the famines in Ethiopia. It wasn’t so much that the weather was particularly bad, it was that all those starving refugees couldn’t go back to their lands and grow food, because if they did they’d be killed.

Do a Google search on the term “kleptocracy.” You will see that it’s endemic in Third world nation, and most endemic right where most of the starving is being done, in Africa. All the historical evidence, all logic, shows that kleptocrats would READILY siphon off food for starving people to keep their Swiss bank accounts happy. Starvation is being used as a tool of warfare in some places like Horn of Africa, and it’s a side effect of insane govermnent in central Africa, but everywhere in the Third World one of the chief difficulties in getting people food to starving people is getting it past the kleptocrats.

For an elaboration of the theory, you might want to look at the work of Amartya Sen, especially his “Poverty and Famines”, which is his look at famines in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and the Sahel. Dr. Sen argues that famine can’t be seen as a result of crop failure, but rather as a result of income inequality and “food entitlement” and a lack of either public or private resources to address those.

So, his argument is, if you want to prevent famine, the best way to do it is to have a democratic government and a welfare state.

Crop failure is not a necessary element of starvation, unless you count confiscation or deliberate destruction as a “crop failure”. IIRC, the Soviets simply seized enough of the crop to assure famines in the rural areas in the early Stalin years. And in WWII, agriproducts were resources considered better destroyed than falling into the hands of the enemy. Particularly the German/Russian front, which got churned over so many times.

R J Rummel has written about that subject too, but he feels economic freedom is also very important to avoiding famine.