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On the Somali Famine

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

It’s unspeakably tragic that thousands of Somalis are today starving to death (“U.N.: Famine in Somalia is killing tens of thousands,” July 22).  And it’s true that one proximate cause of this starvation is drought.  But blaming such starvation on weather conditions is lame; it is to confuse a proximate cause for a deeper cause – and a deeper cause that is avoidable through better policies.

The earth is full of people (such as residents the American southwest) who live in places that receive very little rainfall, or that endure prolonged droughts, yet who aren’t remotely at risk of starving.  Understanding the starvation in Somalia requires an explanation of why Somalis enjoy no ready access, such as we have in America, to global supplies of food.  (There is, after all, no global drought.)  Such understanding demands also an explanation of why Somalis – unlike, say, farmers in rainfall-poor parts of California – don’t use artificial irrigation and other modern techniques to ensure against drought and to increase crop yields.

Reasonable people can disagree over the reasons Somalia’s economy prevents Somalis from escaping subsistence living conditions.  But explaining today’s starvation in Somalia as being the result of drought is as helpful as, say, explaining growing world population as being the result of sex.  Deeper thinking is needed.

Donald J. Boudreaux