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Famine amidst food!

Editorial | New Delhi |

The caption’s contradiction in terms is unavoidable for it underlines the grim tragedy of South Sudan. It is an “impossibility theorem” of sorts, to summon the famous expression of Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, who passed away on Tuesday at the ripe age of 95. The official declaration of famine, which was announced by the UN and the government on Monday, is eerily reminiscent of the denial policy of the British that led to the Bengal famine of 1942… as exposed to the world by this newspaper at that point of time. Once again, it is not an agricultural failure but the result of prolonged civil war and a crippling economic crisis that has devastated the war-torn East African nation. Above all, 75 years after the Bengal famine, a swathe of the world has to countenance the denial of food. And unmistakable must be the repetition of social history. The famine is almost an engineered humanitarian crisis, a hideous instance of man’s inhumanity to man ~ not celluloid fiction but a point of fact. With one million lives at risk, President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s government has been ruthless in its reprisal as he counters the adversaries in the midst of the civil war by blocking food supplies. The United Nations has informed the world at the peak of the crisis; logically therefore it ought to intervene without dithering, as it did in the wake of political upheavals in Libya and Syria. Quite totally outrageous has been the government’s blocking of food aid to some areas. Indeed, the contrived scarcity of food has emerged as a tool to rein in the rebellious.
The World Food Programme’s assessment that “there is only so much that humanitarian assistance can achieve in the absence of meaningful peace and security” alone explains the disconnect between the declaration of famine and the blockade against food supplies. The extent of human suffering is underscored by the official classification of “famine” and it is time for the comity of nations to react to the heart-rending conditions.
The tormented country showcases fields that are fertile, and yet the country is plagued by famine. And between the two extremes, there is no food. The risk of death out of hunger is substantial, going by the report crafted jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Food Programme, and Unicef. The data collection has been remarkably incisive. On a parity of reasoning, the response of the world must match the enormity of the tragedy. The famine is man-made, and the quality of life has descended to what the WFP calls “emergency level of hunger”. That succinctly sums up the tragedy of the world’s tiniest nation ~ seemingly improbable but direly true.