Голодомор, or the Holodomor, translates to hunger death. In 1932-1933, massive famine known as the Holodomor swept across Ukraine (at the time the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic). No famine of natural causes, the Holodomor resulted directly from Stalinist policies created to force the rebellious Ukrainian population into submission on a number of issues. Using grain requisition and border closings to ensure the Ukrainians suffered, this man-made famine bordered on the brink of genocide. Hunger, unfortunately, served as a frequent companion to Ukrainian, Russian, and other Soviet citizens. Nearly all famine in Russia from 971 to 1970 occurred due to human factors. Man-made famine limits itself to no region, however. Across the British Empire during the time of conquest, frequency of famine increased to one in every seven years. Upon examination, it becomes clear that nearly all modern famines are man-made. Some famine results directly from man’s policy (as in the case of the Holodomor), but other famine occurs indirectly: political unrest, spillover conflict, and civil war seem to build the modern road to famine. South Sudan moves further and further down that road, and shows no signs of turning around.
On February 20, three UN agencies declared famine in regions of South Sudan. A number is already dead, 100,000 are on the brink of starvation, and nearly one million more face the same fate.  Civil war exacerbated by factions within factions caused and continue to cause the country to fracture on every fault possible. Extreme inflation, drought, and paralyzed agriculture produced by civil war are appearing in previously stable areas and urban centers, generating conditions for today’s famine. Mark Toner, acting US State Department spokesman, declared the crisis man-made, a “direct consequence of a conflict prolonged by South Sudanese leaders who are unwilling to put aside political ambitions for the good of their people.” Furthermore, in some cases, leaders of the warring parties have blocked aid workers from delivering relief where it is most needed. Residents must choose: flee or starve. Many choose to flee. The influx of South Sudanese refugees to Uganda exceeds the number of migrants that crossed the Mediterranean in 2016.
Bordering South Sudan, Ethiopia faces many of the same natural conditions. However, though often ravaged by drought, the people survive because the government and local aid agencies help those struggling to find food and water. Human factors clearly make the difference.[i]
The idea of famine is hard to conceptualize for many. It’s thrown around as a hyperbole at the slightest twinge of hunger: ‘I’m dying of hunger’ or ‘I’m starving to death’. It’s shocking to me when I apply the statistics of famine to my rural hometown; try to do the same with your own town—your own office—your own family: 1/5 of all families face extreme food shortage, 30% of the population is malnourished, and 2 for each 10,000 are dying every day. In my town of around 1500, about 500 would be malnourished. In a small community, it would be impossible to ignore. Which 500 is it? Which family out of 5 is it? Is it yours?
It’s a terrible thought, but in fact a reality. In 2017, 20 million people across 4 different countries are at risk of famine; 34 countries faced food shortages in 2016. The international community seems to sit on the sidelines. Uganda, home to some of the largest refugee settlements are appearing, will pay a heavy price. UN Secretary General Guterres has warned that there is not enough money to address current food shortages, including for the refugees in Uganda. Barely 2% of a necessary $5.6 billion is in hand, and the rest is needed by the end of March. In Guterres’ words, ‘in our world of plenty, there is no excuse for inaction or indifference’. My challenge to you is find a way to make a difference.
For further reading: