Most of us living in the West have never known hunger. In America, food shelves are easily accessed by the most vulnerable of society.
Despite living in a time where there is a global surplus of food, millions of people around the world are still suffering from famine. If you follow mainstream media coverage about these humanitarian disasters, they’re most likely presented through the lens of climate change, high food prices, and taxes.
But in places like Yemen, South Sudan, the Lake Chad basin of West Africa and Somalia, where images of skeletal children have become commonplace several countries in Africa and the Middle East, it is perhaps no coincidence that the epidemic of famine is directly linked to modern-day colonialism and imperialism led by the U.S.
It is in this part of the world where resource exploitation, the war on terror, military occupation and destabilization combine to create one of the most dire humanitarian crises of the modern era.
While environmental factors do play a role, policies set by powerful oil companies and state actors have created and reinforced the present situation.
In Somalia, where the U.S. has been waging a covert drone war, people have become accustomed to famine. In a span of just one year, between 2011 and 2012, over 260,000 people died, half of them under the age of 5, marking the worst famine in the last 25 years. According to data from Somalia’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU), 4.6 percent of the total population and 10 percent of children under 5 died in southern and central Somalia alone.
The organization Somalia’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) found that “the result was widespread livestock deaths, the smallest cereal harvest since the 1991-94 civil war, and a major drop in labor demand, which reduced household income.” Compounding environmental burdens were the wider impacts of British colonialism in Somalia, as well as U.S. militarism.
While the United States plundered Somalia for resources by way of mineral excavation and so-called oil exploration, past and present administrations have also applied their full military might. In 1993, during the Clinton presidency, images of famine and war were used to convince Americans that U.S. military efforts were necessary.
“We went [to Somalia] because only the United States could help stop one of the great human tragedies of this time,” Clinton said. “In a sense, we came to Somalia to rescue innocent people in a burning house.” What Bill Clinton didn’t disclose was that the United States was one of the reasons why the house was on fire to begin with, and military efforts would not help to put out the flames.
Somali children run alongside a U.S. Marine M-1 Abrams tank during an armored patrol in north Mogadishu, Somalia, Jan. 26, 1993. (AP/Mark Duncan)
In South Sudan – a small statelet less than a decade old and home to some of Africa’s largest oil reserves – nearly 2 million people are on the brink of starvation. South Sudan has found itself in a situation that the UN describes as “catastrophic,” predicting that half the population will be facing food shortages by the end of 2017.
Further exacerbating the situation is the mark left behind by the U.S. military , which has poured billions into the country by way of weaponry, plunging the nation into chaos in order to turn it into another colonial outpost. And according to a UN report published in 2016, the civil war in South Sudan is being fueled by European and Israeli arms makers, who are taking advantage of the war.
This arms trafficking network was selling thousands of weapons in the country by 2014, with experts arguing that it may have started even earlier.
Oil companies like Oranto to Petroleum and ExxonMobil are also exploiting south Sudan, setting up oil and gas deals worth billions of dollars while nearly half the population is starving. According to reports, the shadowy European corporation Suiss Finance Luxembourg AG has announced a $10.5 billion deal that could rise to $105 billion.
A nation carved out of a unified Sudan with help from the US and “international community,” South Sudan plays an essential role in hosting economic arrangements to the benefit of strategic U.S. interests in the region with its large reserves of gold, construction materials and crude petroleum.
While creating a state of affairs that reinforces hunger, the U.S. and its allies, are finding new ways to exploit the most vulnerable and keep them divided through means of war and weapons imports.
Yemen is also being forced to endure the chilling effects of famine thanks to a U.S.-backed bombing campaign by Saudi Arabia and a well-armed coalition supported by the Trump administration. After years of indiscriminate bombing campaigns and port blockades, starving Yemenis are are also dealing with cholera, with the number of cases set to hit 150,000 in the next 6 months due to a lack of medicine. Those who can’t afford food or other basic necessities are marrying off their daughters in the hopes that they’ll be cared for and that dowries will help provide for them.
Already one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, Yemen is now facing near-total collapse. Saudi Arabia, by blocking imports of food, medicine, and fuel, has given the people of Yemen a death sentence so the U.S. can rattle its saber at Iran and ensure Saudi Arabia’s hegemony over Yemen’s vast oil reserves.
Humanitarian aid will mean little without the end of war, especially if that aid is tied to militarization and resource exploitation.
The U.S. doesn’t deliver aid for the sake of altruism, but with direct or indirect guarantees that they will be able to build or deepen a relationship with recipients for its own benefit. The U.S. has long used disaster relief efforts as a way to advance its military presence and undermine entire countries, like in the use of USAID.
The face of modern colonialism takes many shapes. Empires grow by tightening their grip on the land and the people in order to fill their own pockets.
The downward spiral of famine will not end until countries like Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan are no longer targets of imperialism.