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How Famine Works


Can We Prevent Famines?
These World Food Programme workers are delivering an allocation of fortified flour to a warehouse in the West Bank Palestinian town of Dura. The 2008 spike in food prices was a blow to the world's hungry.
These World Food Programme workers are delivering an allocation of fortified flour to a warehouse in the West Bank Palestinian town of Dura. The 2008 spike in food prices was a blow to the world's hungry.
David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A lot has been and is still being done worldwide to try to decrease undernourishment and prevent famines, but so far, these efforts have not been resoundingly successful; around a billion people don't have enough food to eat on a regular basis, and famines do still strike. Richer nations like the United States routinely give aid money to poorer nations to try to negate hunger issues, but so far, nothing has proved a perfect solution.

It can be tricky to balance today's needs with tomorrow's, when funds and resources are limited. Aid groups try to cooperate to fight hunger on all fronts. Organizations like the United Nations' World Food Programme and UNICEF work to fight both chronic and acute food shortages. For example, the former runs school food programs to help feed children while bolstering educational efforts, and food-for-work programs which feed struggling community members in exchange for work on infrastructure improvements and environmental conservation efforts. These ongoing projects and others like them can be found in countries ranging from Ethiopia to Ecuador and Côte d'Ivoire to Cambodia. When famine does strike, UNICEF acts by delivering emergency rations -- sometimes not the full recommended daily amount, but enough to cheat death for another day until the situation stabilizes.

Early intervention is key to successfully staving off a famine, and one controversial aspect of all this is whether financial beneficiaries and aid organizations act appropriately when it comes to addressing immediate needs versus long-term needs of places where food security is precarious. Some also argue that unaffected populations are slow to respond until a situation is desperate, even when there are signs that a region is heading toward chronic malnourishment or even famine. People in this camp think mitigation efforts should begin long before photos of starving children are snapped to incite an international response, especially in famine-prone places.

Others think even that isn't enough. They believe restrictions and regulations -- such as those placed on the global food trade -- need to be seriously rethought to even the playing field between the haves and the have-nots [source: New York Times]. They also suggest aid organizations need to prioritize solving hunger in the long term, rather than simply slapping a Band-Aid on a bad situation. The same populations -- particularly those in Africa -- often suffer from famines over and over because of serious root causes that must be fixed if hunger is to be stamped out entirely.

Get lots more information regarding the world's food supply on the next page.


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