Posted 25 May 2009
Imagining a world free of famine
Famine remains one of the worst calamities that can befall society. Mass starvation – whether it is inflicted by drought or engineered by misguided or genocidal economic policies – devastates families, weakens the social fabric, and undermines political stability.
In his latest contribution, Famine – A Short History (Princeton University Press, 2009), UCD economic historian Professor Cormac Ó Gráda, who chronicled the Great Irish Famine in Black 47 and Beyond, (Princeton University Press, 1999), traces the complete history of famine from the earliest records to today.
He examines the causes and profound consequences of famine from Ancient Egypt to the killing fields of 1970s Cambodia, from the Great Famine of fourteenth-century Europe to the famine in Niger in 2005.
Professor Tom Brazil, UCD School of Electrical, Electronic & Mechanical Engineering; Professor Brigid Laffan, Principal of the UCD College of Human Sciences; Professor Cormac Ó Gráda, UCD School of Economics; Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Philip Harvey, UCD Campus Bookshop
Preventing famine today has more to do with institutions than resources, according to Ó Gráda who, with careful acknowledgement of the practical impossibility of forecasting the future of famine, explores the prospects of a world free from famine.
“If war does not get in the way, and that is a big if, a whole range of factors mean that famine, or its worst effects, can be and in a sense are being avoided today,” he says.
Factors like rising global income, the globalisation of disaster relief both public and non-governmental, improved communications and early warning systems, the slow spread of democratic accountability, and the buoyancy of agricultural output and productivity over the last three or four decades, all contribute to the reduction of future famines and their horrific consequences.
“Over time the balance has shifted from ‘natural’ to ‘manmade’ famines, where today the more developed countries and aid agencies are in a better position to provide help when famine threatens,” says Ó Gráda from the UCD School of Economics.
Famine: A Short History (Princeton University Press) by Professor Cormac Ó Gráda was officially launched by Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 16 May 2009.