Starvation in Africa – current context, history, causes, solutions, and outcomes


Starvation in Africa – current context, history, causes, solutions, and outcomes

History of starvation in Africa

Famine has ravaged parts of Africa in the recent years with the northeast parts (Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia) being the most badly affected areas due to periodic privation. The World Food Conference leaders in 1974 promised that no child would go hungry within a decade. However, in 1996 governments admitted that at least 800 million people were not in a position of accessing adequate food that would meet their most basic needs (“Global hunger continues to rise”, 2018). A state of national disaster was declared in January 1997 by the government of Kenya after there was a threat for the livelihoods of 2 million people due to severe droughts.  In early 2000, Kenya was hit by the worst drought in the past 37 years rendering four million people in need of food aid.

In December 2005, almost 2.5 million people in Northern Kenya were facing starvation. The Famine was declared a national catastrophe. In 1996, the United Nations indicated that at least 22 million in sub-Saharan Africa were faced with starvation. Moreover, in the case of Sudan, the civil war resulted to 2.5 million Sudanese being in need of emergency food in February 1994. Unlike in Kenya where Starvation was attributed to the adverse semi-arid climatic conditions, the famine in Sudan was mostly human-made. The civil war made most of the Sudanese residents to flee their homes and eventually to miss out on the planting seasons.

Almost seven million people were threatened by food shortage in Ethiopia during the spring time. Despite a lot of effort through relief foods and various donations to help the people, at least 5000 people died. In the case of Somalia, in the year 1992, at least 2 million people experienced possible starvation with at least 25000 troops from America who worked for the United Nations aided in food delivery (Moszynski, 2010).There was a widespread famine in

Ethiopia in 1988 that ended up putting 6 million out of 46 million population in Ethiopia at the risk of starvation. However, the largest famine in Ethiopia was experienced between 1984 and 1985 that ended up killing 1 million people. The security conditions in Ethiopia have hindered effectual working for the aid workers. Some regions are unsafe for relief workers hence delivering food aid becomes impossible.  In the area bordering Eritrea, the political conflict makes the passage of relief food difficult for the aid workers. Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya share the same climatic region. Lack of enough rainfall and the sedentary lifestyle of the pastoralist communities living in these regions lead to Starvation. Food aids and gifts alleviate the effects of starvation, but still the number of casualties from the famine is alarming.

Is starvation in Africa better or worse compared to the rest of the world?

There has been an increment in the issues to do with hunger globally over a couple of years. However, there have been less people who are going hungry compared in the past years such as in the year 2000 where 900 million people could go without food. According to the United Nations food agencies, 815 million people go to bed hungry on a regular basis throughout the world which about 11% of the population worldwide (Koenig, 2013).There has been overall improvements in regards to food security although some places in the world are lagging behind in the provision of adequate nutrition to enhance healthy development.  Food security entails the provision of nutritious, safe, qualitative and quantitative food (Boon, 2007). The measures employed in improving the food security include introduction of sustainable agricultural practices to ensure there is sufficient food production.

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Developing nations such as Africa account for 98% or 791 million of people who are chronically undernourished. Majority of the people dying of malnutrition are children below five years whose parents cannot afford nutritious food. There are some regions which have the highest number of people who are faced with starvation. They include; Western Asia 10.6%, Southeastern Asia 11.5%, Southern Asia 14.4%, Caribbean 17.7% and Sub-Saharan Africa 22.7% (Singh et al.,2015). On the basis of these statistics, it is clear that Africa and mostly Sub Saharan Africa is the second most affected continent when it comes to starvation.  

Poverty and conflict are among the leading causes of hunger. Poor people cannot afford to purchase nutritionally adequate food for the households.   Conflict directly and indirectly contributes to Starvation. People in conflict areas cannot access employment and consequently there is diminished power of affording nutritious food. Conflict forces people to move out of their home areas and agricultural activities are affected. Sub-Saharan Africa is faced with most challenges in terms of food security where 1 in 4 people lack adequate food on a daily basis. Asia seems to have the largest number of people (525.6 million) who are faced with starvation.

Areas in Africa where people are currently starving

Africa is considered the poorest continent in the world with most people living below the poverty line in the Sub-Saharan Africa. The weakest members in the society (women and children) are the most affected by poverty. People who are termed as being absolutely poor are those who have less than 1.25 US dollars in a day for their livelihood meaning they live on the edge of existence.  The poor people can hardly afford the basic necessities of life (Kates and Dasgupta, 2007). Sadly, 93 % of the developing world population and especially in Africa are poor.  They mostly live in the rural areas with very little income to afford life’s basic needs. There are various indicators used to measure poverty that are set by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). They include the per capita income, expected school attendance period, average school attendance period and the life expectancy at birth (Kasayira & Chireshe, 2010). Poverty is outlined as the diminishing capabilities for meeting life’s functioning’s.  They entail the desires and needs that people have in life. The United Nations Indicates that education is linked to poverty since people who are illiterate have little chance of being able to look for jobs and earn some income.

 The annual human development report published by UN indicate that countries like Sierra Leone, Chad, Eritrea, Burundi, Liberia and Malawi are regularly in the last places since 2014 (Anders, 2014).The poverty percentage in most of the developing countries in the world keep on reducing while the rate keep on increasing in Africa. Growth domestic product in Africa is at 0.1% while other developing countries have increased to at least 3.6 % (Kates and Dasgupta, 2007).  When there is extreme poverty, hunger strikes in Africa and at least a quarter of the people who are hungry lives in the African continent. Moreover one fifth of the people who live in Africa are malnourished thus leading to Africa having the most malnourished people globally. At least 30%of the children living in Africa suffer from growth disorders as a result of chronic malnutrition thus causing mental and physical underdevelopment among children.

Groups that have been most affected by starvation in Africa

The acute food crises are experienced when there is famine which mostly occurs after due to armed conflict or after drought. Babies and small children as well as the old people are the most vulnerable group to be affected by starvation. Children suffer from malnutrition which leads to mental and physical development delays and other disorders which in return causes high infant mortality rates. 165 million children according to the UN data are stunted as a result of chronic malnutrition. Most of the children affected tend to live in Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. Malnutrition has been attributed as a factor indicative of poverty. Malnutrition in children is an indicator of the future of the society. According to Bain et al,. (2013), malnutrition in children affects their optimal intellectual development.  Therefore, the vicious cycle of poverty continues as the children end up being poor.

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There are 40% of children who are affected in Sub Saharan Africa while in South Asia they are 39% (Leake, 2014). 3.2 million children who are below the age of 5 die annually in Sub Saharan Africa representing about half of the deaths experienced globally for this age group. These deaths are due to malnutrition since it makes the immune system weak such that diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia often result to death. The mortality rate in Sub Saharan acts as the highest worldwide where I in 9 children die when they are still below the age of 5 years. 1 in every 6 children dies in Sierra Leone before reaching 5 years. In Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo experiences high rates of child deaths.

Apart from Children, malnutrition is more prominent in the female gender rather than the male gender. Women malnutrition is an indicative of the phases of life that the households are going through. Bain et al,.(2013) states that malnutrition in women seems to add up to the vicious cycle of poverty in homes. Pregnant women facing malnutrition are likely to bear children that are malnourished.  Women and girls more than men and boys face malnutrition issue in Africa and Asia. Social, cultural and economic activities place men in better places to eat nutritious food than women.

What causes starvation in these areas?

The climatic changes are the main factors that undermine the production of major crops such as maize, wheat and rice in the tropical and temperate regions. This is expected to become worse due to increased temperatures due to lack of building climate resilience. Countries that are exposed to climate extremes tend to have high number of undernourished people. Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia share a region that has constantly been faced with insufficient rainfall. Undernourishment is made worse when being exposed to climate extremes is accompanied by the largest number of people depending on agricultural systems. Agriculture is highly sensitive to temperature variability and rainfall and most of the countries in Africa depend on agriculture (Koenig, 2013).The anomalies of temperature have continued being high since 2011 to 2016 which is more than the long term mean which has led to extreme heat over the years. Moreover, the rainfall seasons are changing such that they are either early or late leading to unequal distribution of rainfall in a given season. If agricultural production is affected, it means that the food availability is negatively affected by the shortfalls.

Other causes of starvation in certain areas in the Sub Saharan Africa are the population growth. This is because; there is a rapid growth in the number of people while the production of food is not keeping up with the growth (Anders, 2014). The African culture counters entrepreneurship with ties to families and ethnicity. Families cannot afford enough money to get basic commodities and make worthwhile investments (Kates and Dasgupta, 2007).Moreover, there are cases of being trapped in debts and mismanagement of funds.  The poverty trap seemingly becomes like a vicious cycle. Little savings in the family leads to an increased vulnerability to starvation in case famine struck since families cannot afford to purchase adequate and nutritious food. Economic development in Africa is blocked by the high level of indebtedness in most countries together with the issues of poor governance.

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 Conflict has been among the leading causes of Starvation in Sub-Saharan Africa(Kates  and Dasgupta, 2007).  Countries such as Sudan and Somalia that have experienced civil war have had to deal with the issue of persistent famine. Conflict disrupts agricultural activities through forcing the occupants of a particular area to flee in the event of war. It interferes with people’s cultural habits of countering famine such as looking for food through gathering of wild plants as well as hunting. Some of the targets for fighting forces include markets and centers. During conflict the centers are disrupted together with the infrastructural network making access to food items hectic.  Residents of various countries such as Somalia are turned into refugees as they seek refuge from conflict prone regions.  Investments from Non-governmental organizations are disrupted as well due to the increasing disruptions of the transport system.

The response/solution to starvation

There has been acute drought southern and south eastern Ethiopia, northern and coastal Kenya as well as in Somalia. The UN has contributed largely in regards to warning countries about droughts and helping in provision of relief food stuffs. The president of Somalia called for urgent assistance since drought is a national disaster. Ethiopia and Kenya have also been faced by drought over several occasions and the UN has tried to intervene by providing the relief food. World Vision has also for at least 40 years responded to issues of drought by bringing emergency and long term solutions to the communities in East Africa (Mohamed & Aiayanna, 2013).They have achieved this through emergency food and cash, diagnosing and treating malnutrition among children, preventing water related diseases through water and sanitation, supporting improved agriculture for farmers and land rehabilitation to enhance harvest.

 Regarding the conflict facing the various African countries especially Somalia and Sudan, there has been an ongoing peace effort. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) seeks peace with the varying countries. The Pan- Africa movement thrives to create democracy, good governance and negotiate with the new develop partners to alleviate the impact of conflict (Kates  and Dasgupta, 2007).   The entrant of new development partners such as

China brings economic empowerment to the various states. Infrastructure destroyed during war periods can easily be reconstructed with the help of non-governmental agencies.

The World Vision staff in the year 2017 in October and September 2018 was able to reach to at least 2.7 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. The funding provided through various sponsorship programs among children in Ethiopia and Kenya has led to the local staff in World Vision intervening and assisting communities prior to the intensification of the crisis (Moszynski, 2010). They provide training for farmers, drought resistant seeds as well as the cash for work programs. USAID among other NGOs has also contributed to a large extent in combating starvation among various countries globally. They invest in food security and agriculture as way of ending hunger through efforts like Feed the Future and Food for Peace.

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Has the solution worked? Why?

The solutions have worked but not fully to overcome the issue of starvation. This is because there are still various issues of food insecurity in sub Saharan Africa with some having catastrophic issues. It is not only about food intake, production and availability but is also about how people are receiving poor quality food that does not have nutritional value. Also, the soaring food riots and food prices are examples of the prevailing food insecurity and crisis (Kasayira & Chireshe, 2010). There are issues of weather vagaries and climate change which are resulting to food insecurity and drastic changes in the farming activities in most African countries. The climatic belt covering North Eastern Kenya, Somalia, and parts of Ethiopia remains most affected region by drought. The communities have little income to meet the escalating food prices as well as the nutritious food supply. During the flooding seasons, most of the regions are prone to flooding. Starvation occurs since the communities loss livestock which are their source of income.

Despite political progress in countries like Somalia, the conflicts have resulted to at least half of the population being need of assistance as most children experience acute malnutrition.  The Al-Shabab Militia group destabilizes households making economic activities to come to a halt. Sudan has for a long time encountered the challenge of civil war. The children are most affected by famine as they face malnutrition due to lack of quality food. Families are unable to continue with their agricultural activities as they fear for their safety.

Nigeria is also faced by Boko Haram conflicts which have resulted to farmer being unable to grow crops, left at least 1.8 million people displaced and 4.8 million people being in need of food assistance (Koenig, 2013). These food crises in Africa can be managed only if conflicts can be understood.  Abitration should be provided to adequately address the problem. There are also issues of having weak rule of law in various countries, poverty and issues of poor governance. Governments such as Somalia government should be given military and legal support so that they can adequately stabilize. There is need to invest in prevention of conflicts and the stability that the prevention brings. Addressing certain issues that face a country is necessary in order to accommodate the assistance that is offered by the international donors and various NGOs.

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Some organizations such as Mercy Corps have come up with ways of delivering peace and preventing conflicts in countries such as Somalia and Nigeria. Long term approaches need to be supported so as to prevent famine or droughts in future. The approaches may entail helping communities start income generating activities. Also, schools can be established to improve the intellectual knowledge of the future generations. Moreover, there is need for the communities in various African countries to understand that it is crucial for the underlying issues to be addressed.  Thereis no external solution that can adequately help if the inhabitants are not for it. Civic education and sensitization of the various stakeholders in developing countries is vital as part of the long term solution to starvation.


Starvation in Africa has been an issue for the longest time without permanent solutions. The main challenge is the mitigation of food insecurity. There can be technical solutions throughout Africa for instance if there are higher yields experienced through agriculture. This is however manageable if there is sustainable agriculture although good practices have to be experienced in the entire continent. Some of the good practices entail the introduction of drought resistant crops. There is also need for political will as well as social and economic measures in order to fight the starvation in Africa.  Various parts of the community that might be in conflict need to understand the importance of peaceful co-existence. In as much as international donors are trying to aid in fighting starvation, they need to fulfil their commitment by helping farmers and rural communities. This is achievable through protecting them from unfair competitions, trade and dumping of food from overseas which is cheap (Leake, 2014).


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