Climate Change & Famine

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorAug 8, 2011 10:08 PM


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A Guardian blog called "Poverty Matters" carries a headline that I find obscene:

Is Climate Change to blame for the famine in the Horn of Africa?

I might have taken a charitable view towards this provocative headline if the actual post included discussion of Somalia, where the famine is hitting hardest. You probably have seen the wrenching pictures and stories coming out of Somalia the last few weeks. This humanitarian tragedy is not in any way attributable to global warming. It should not be considered as a rhetorical question, especially at a blog devoted to development and poverty issues. On this note, I share Edward Carr's quiet outrage:

After reading a lot of news and blog posts on the situation in the Horn of Africa, I feel the need to make something clear: the drought in the Horn of Africa is not the cause of the famine we are seeing take shape in southern Somalia. We are being pounded by a narrative of this famine that more or less points to the failure of seasonal rains as its cause . . . which I see as a horrible abdication of responsibility for the human causes of this tragedy.

Andy Revkin echoes this sentiment here, and in a follow-up post, he explores a relevant climate change angle that one hopes will be taken up in climate modeling circles. But let's go back to Carr (more information on him here), who asserts that what's happening in Somalia is

a human crisis first and foremost, whatever you think of anthropogenic climate change...We can't blame this famine on the weather "“ we need to be looking at everything from local and national politics that shape access and entitlements to food to global food markets that have driven the price of needed staples up across the world, thus curtailing access for the poorest. The bad news: Humans caused this. The good news: If we caused it, we can prevent the next one.

In the case of Somalia, however, the situation is a great deal more complicated, as Bronwyn Bruton explains in this influential Foreign Affairs essay, and in this Q & A. Meanwhile, no western journalist has a better feel for Somalia than Jeffrey Gettleman, an Africa correspondent for the NYT, who, two years ago, wrote in Foreign Policy:

This dysfunctional, poverty-stricken, war-ravaged country has cast a spell over me. It's one of the most exotic, authentic, sealed-off places in the world. Its isolation isn't surprising because the place is dangerous as hell.

Anyone who wants to invoke climate change as a contributing factor to Somalia's latest tragedy should spend 48 hours having tea with the warlords and Islamic extremists that currently rule much of the country.

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