Food shortages, otherwise known as famine, are a substantial level of scarcity of food in a particular area. Even today, many nations, particularly in the developing world, experience food shortage for a variety of reasons. Millions of people die every year in the developing world from famine and food shortages; in today's globalized, industrialized world, the lack of food afforded to people continues to be a complete and utter travesty. Food shortage is a common problem throughout the world, even today. While the number of overweight people has outweighed the number who are undernourished, the fight continues for those who still do not have enough food (Kamdar, 2007). About 925 million people today are chronically hungry, and the number of people without food security has increased to 2 billion people (Bhutta, 2008).
Food security only exists when people have, at all times, the access by any means to nutritious food that meets their dietary requirements to remain healthy (Bhutta, 2008). This extends to both food and water; not only do countries need to be able to provide their own food, they must have clean water for both drinking and irrigation purposes (Brown and Halweil, 1998). Considering both the long-term effects and the increased ability for industrialized nations to provide aid, it is particularly tragic when food shortages are allowed to continue unabated. It is important to discuss the causes, factors and potential solutions surrounding the subject of food shortages, as well as steps that can be taken to alleviate these problems, the responsibility of which lies mostly on the developed world.
There are many different causes of food shortage, ranging from the environmental to the political. Some of the causes of food shortage include a lack of food or problems with the distribution of food, which can occur given a variety of social, political and environmental reasons. Drought and adverse environmental conditions can often lead to an insufficient amount of food being provided for the population of a country or area. The ecology of certain nations prevent them from growing sufficient food for their population; many African nations find themselves unable to sufficiently grow food (Harrison, 1988). China regularly experiences water shortages that make irrigation and crop farming quite difficult (Brown and Halweil, 1998). As climate change continues to play a significant factor in the changing of the environment globally, global grain stocks have fallen over 50 percent, causing significant problems for global food supplies, particularly to poorer countries and populations who are not afforded as much of the global food supply as the wealthy (Kamdar, 2007). Even in developed countries, food supplies will become a major problem due to climate change - US citizens can expect to pay up to 20 percent more in price for foodstuffs like eggs in order to maintain their current diet (Kamdar, 2007).
Social causes of food shortages include the extreme political conditions that happen as a result of oppressive governments or warfare. Many governments oppress and control their people to the point where many do not receive food (Somerville, 2002). In a principle known as 'state-sponsored famine,' countries use government policy to deprive their people for food. This can occur for many reasons, including the deliberate restricting of trade to other countries who are dependent on food being imported to them - this reasoning was prevalent during the Great Irish Famine (Sen, 1982). Some conservative and dictatorial governments use food shortages as a way to keep their populations docile and as a means to commit genocide against undesirable groups, such as the USSR's attempts to suppress dissent and diminish the Ukrainian race in the 1930s (Sen, 1982). Many countries also have a combination of both environmental causes and political causes that prevent them from getting sufficient food for their population (Somerville, 2002).
The effects of food shortage in the short term can be quite acute on a country, whether developed or undeveloped. Children's health is sorely diminished, sacrificing needed nutrition in their early years and leaving them underweight - nearly 50% of children in the Asian and Pacific regions are underweight, an effect directly attributable to food shortages (Bhutta et al., 2008). Morbidity rates for children and mothers in nations suffering from food shortage are also much higher. Short term effects of food shortage on people and society include a bout of mild malnutrition, loss of energy intake and weight, as well as sluggish behavior and more restrictive behaviors in play and language, particularly for children. In the short-term, people become sluggish, unresponsive, and generally unavailable to work (Brown and Halweil, 1998). This creates substantial problems for the poorest of populations, who already have significant issues stemming from illness and starvation-related loss of work and income. Even worse, however, are the long term effects of food shortage, which are undeniably indiscriminate and crippling to even the strongest nation (Brown and Halweil, 1998). Long term effects of food shortage include developmental changes and sustained malnutrition, as well as economic and social instability. Large numbers of the population have the potential to die off in these periods of sustained food shortage and famine, and the economic and social productivity of a country suffers significantly as a result (Kamdar, 2007).
Despite the problems inherent in the food shortage dilemma, there are solutions that can be taken that would lessen the effects of food shortage, including introducing a democratic government into those that did not have them. Sen argues that democratic governments offer greater accountability to their leaders (Sen, 1982). In order to lessen the influence of food shortage in countries suffering from it, international support must be taken to provide aid, support, and governmental stabilization to offer areas of food shortage a more stable environment with which to grow and sustain their own food. Research has shown that the most stable environment for preventing food shortages is a democracy. Democracies help to prevent famine, as the people would vote to keep things running as long as steps were taken to solve food shortages (Massing, 2003). Food shortages are an unfortunate outcome of undeveloped countries and the inability of the developed world to help them sufficiently. In countries like India, the "invisible hand" of oppression prevents people from getting the food they need, due to government surpluses of food being withheld from the people as supplies of grain are stockpiled from the 350 million hungry in India (Massing, 2003). These kinds of governmental sanctions contribute to the great proliferation of hunger in the world that comes from food shortages, and can only be changed through local and internalized policy changes.
Despite the possibility of democracy averting famine, the need for free market economics and economic liberalization are also shown to be vitally important to the food shortage crisis (Sen, 1982). Countries like China have grown substantially due to said liberalization, while India has stagnated. Some democratic countries still experience great hunger - Ethiopia fought for democratic government after experiencing Marxist dictatorship, but still experiences great dependence on foreign aid for their food. With the help of more organized and dedicated sanctions, it may be possible for developed countries to provide sufficient assistance to allow undeveloped countries to get back on their feet, while allowing them to work on their own local and governmental issues (Massing, 2003).
In conclusion, the need to solve the problem of food shortages is paramount. The causes of food shortages are many and cannot be solved without international intervention.
(Bhutta et al., 1998). Drought, warfare and income inequalities all combine to create unfavorable conditions that favor food shortage. Food shortages create short-term and long-term effects on nations, all of which harm public health and national economies, that last and cause great damage to these nations (Harrison, 1988). The solutions to food shortages include greater government intervention and sanctions to improve food cultivation conditions in the host country (Sen, 1982). In order to prevent these phenomenon from occurring in our world, a unified effort must be made to dedicate energies to relieving food shortages and making contributions wherever possible to aid initiatives working toward that goal. In a world where financial and material resources abound to feed the entirety of the world's population, food shortages cannot be tolerated.
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