Food shortages in Developing (less developed) countries

Food shortages in developing countries are due at least to social and economic factors as they are to physical factors is a fair comment to make as many of the physical disasters which occur in developing countries can also occur in developed countries. However it is rare to find a case of a developed country having food shortages due to a physical disaster. Therefore there must be a reason that the developing countries suffer in positions which developed countries do not.

Simply, the developing countries do not have the infrastructure or the resources to cope with a physical disaster in the same way that a developed country does. This therefore leads to further problems, one of the most obvious and well publicised is food shortages. The reason for this is partly due to the fact that the governments in developing countries is not very efficient or is corrupt which causes problems to the economy of the country.

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An example of where the government has not helped with the problem of food shortages is in Bangladesh. Although the initial cause of a food shortage there was because much of Bangladesh is low lying (some even below sea level) and makes up the deltas of the Ganges, Brahmaptra and Meghna. Also a seasonal problem which occurs is tropical cyclones which funnel up the Bay of Bengal, this causes the level of water to rise due to low pressure. All together this results in flooding of much land.

In 1974 this was a problem which followed a poor harvest. This lead to the belief that the following years harvest would also be bad, this therefore caused a rise in the price of rice. The government could have prevented this by setting up some agricultural policies such as guaranteed prices, this would not have lead to a high market value as during low market prices the government would buy the crop. This means the prices would not dramatically fluctuate and the agricultural economy would become more stable.

At the same time inflation across the country increased causing greater strain on the population, and also there was a decline in rural employment opportunities. This altogether caused the price of rice to be too high for most people across the country. During this period things across Bangladesh became so desperate that social contacts amongst people disintegrated and family connections were lost. This was even so dramatic as parents abandoning their children, and husbands leaving there wives as the strain for food was too great amongst them. Some people decided to sell, or mortgage their homes and land as a quick solution to some money for food. As well as the land itself they often sold all of their possessions as a quick fix to the problem.

The government only reacted in September 1974 when the worst of the famine was over, during this time they set up 4300 soup kitchens (langarhhanas in Bangladesh) to feed their nation, however by late November most of these had closed and the people were meant to get on with their lives again.

This shows that although there was enough food for the nation, most of it was priced too highly for the majority which is a form of food shortage which the government could have prevented. Also by acting quicker the government could have saved the lives of many and retained the social connections that had previously existed.

This is the true definition of a famine, not where there is not enough food, but where people do not have enough food. The difference is that the country may have enough food for its people, however in reality the people may not be able to afford the food due to high food prices, this will result in no food being available to them.

Another cause of famine is something called entitlement failure. This is far more common in developing countries where trade often occurs with produce and not money. For example in Britain if people want a product or a service they pay for it with money, this is not always the case in developing countries as many ‘products’ or services are paid for with other products or services.

This was a big problem in Sudan around 1991-2 where the price of food was on the increase due to poor harvests causing a lack of food. One of the main products which suffered this problem was flour. At the same time the nomadic herdsmen which rely on the price they can get for their livestock had a problem because the price that they could get for livestock dropped. This meant that they could not raise enough money to afford food.

In a similar way to the government in Bangladesh, the government of Sudan did not respond in the correct way to suit this situation which affected over 1,000,000 people. Although they did request 75,000 tons of aid, they did so only suggesting it would plug its ‘food gap’. However the situation in Sudan was obviously more than a food gap, and the government were either denying their situation and trying to cover it up, or they genuinely were too oblivious to the situation to realise the seriousness of it.

Although some countries famines are due to physical disasters such as drought, there are many owing to other factors. For example in Africa Mali, Niger and Chad are all suffering from poor harvests which is due to drought and if the summer rains fail again people will face starvation due to the lack of crops. On the other hand, again in Africa, countries such as Guinea, Rwanda and Sierra Leone have all been affected by refugees from war zones, this has caused the economy to have to alter to cope with the new found problems. As well as these countries there are some which face the problem of both war and drought, for example Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.

In Ethiopia for example there are currently 6,000,000 people at risk from starvation which is due to poor harvests due to drought, and also a further 1,000,000 people have entered as refugees fleeing from the surrounding countries which are at war. This puts further strain on the limited food supplies which Ethiopia has, and this is why many of these countries require aid from more developed countries such as the UK and the USA.

One of the organisations which is currently helping out in Ethiopia is Food for the Hungry and they raise funds to provide a special porridge supplement for children. The children’s families also will receive maize, beans and cooking oil. They have been working out in Ethiopia since 1984.

One way in which developing countries such as these are affected by famine so much is that much of their industry revolves around agriculture. Again using the example of Ethiopia, 80% of total employment is directly based on agriculture. Therefore if there is a bad harvest one year nearly the whole population is affected, and due to this the economy suffers. The problem of famine therefore does not necessarily result solely due to the drought which may occur. Instead it is the fact that the country relies so heavily on one industry which is not totally under mans control. If they could guarantee a good harvest every year then the economy of the country could become stable and gradually they could develop it further. However due to the social environment which suggest people should work on farms as there are not many further employment opportunities has harsh consequences when a harvest fails.

In total over 50% of the GDP from Ethiopia comes from agriculture, therefore when there is a bad harvest the country as a whole struggles, likewise 90% of the countries exports are due to agriculture. This means that international trade with Ethiopia will come to a halt every time that there is a poor harvest.

When this does occur the Ethiopian government have no choice but to request international help from other countries or special organisations because they cannot cope with the demand that there people have for food supplies.

This problem in places such as Ethiopia and Bangladesh is not going to get any easy in the future when much of their land is used for agriculture as much of the soil is now being overgrazed and many of the nutrients are slowly being used up from the soil as it is not left fallow as perhaps it should be. This has already led to soil erosion and desertification in many parts and no doubt this will occur in more areas if something is not done sooner. Also with global warming there is likely to be more droughts and higher sea levels causing more flooding in Bangladesh, therefore the governments of these countries and others in similar positions should act sooner to prevent more catastrophic events from occurring.

In conclusion to this I believe that if the governments are set up in a way that will act quickly and have the resources to act in a responsive manner to solving the problem, there will not be a problem of famine, even if there is food shortages one year. Therefore in response to the comment which this essay is set around I agree that it is as much down to the social and economic issues, as it is down to a physical disaster that causes food shortages in a country.

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