Asses the extent to which the Root Causes of famine lie in physical geography

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In this report I intend to review various cases of famine to discover whether the fundamental causation of famine can be found in physical and human geography. I shall look at drought, and its effects and why it occurs. I will evaluate desertification and the problem that it causes

Famine leading to malnutrition claims more lives than any other, it leads to widespread death in a large area, it is arguably the cause of most human suffering. Famines differ from common hunger because they occur infrequently and affect a limited number of people, who die of starvation. One definition is “The regional failure of food production or distribution systems, leading to sharply increased mortality due to starvation and associated disease”(Cox 1981, 5).

It is estimated that 800 million people are undernourished (lacking 100 – 400 kilocalories per day) and that a child dies of hunger every five seconds, killing five million children a year according to a United Nations report made in June, 2004. The conclusion from the most recent conference in Rome was that richer countries should do more and increase annual expenditure by 24 billion dollars.

FAO director Jacques Diouf points out that if all the food produced ‘were to be divided equally among its inhabitants, every man, woman and child would consume 2,760 kilocalories every day.’

What is perhaps of more worry is that the situation is likely to become worse once global warming swings into action, by 2050 an additional 30 million Africans could be affected by famine (Africa Recovery, New York, United Nations 1998). It is worth noting that the effects of global warming and climate change subject to constant scrutiny and debate, however it is a fact that global climates are increasing.

It is however the view of many aid agencies, who say as the world warms, it will bring about more extreme weather conditions such as drought, particularly in Africa where patterns of rain have been severely disrupted.

The Pacific has already started to warm, due to El Ni�o that changes the worlds regular weather cycles, giving Africa more droughts.

Famine means people cannot lead a healthy productive life, it dulls intellect and morale according to John Madeley who wrote the book ‘Food for all’ hunger deficiencies stunt learning by 10% and developing countries lose $123 billion per year in production losses.


The map below indicates the world hunger hot spots; it is worth noting that much of the undernourished population is in Africa and Asia.

It is a valuable exercise to see where the areas of drought are and areas which are undernourished correlate the two figures. The areas which are shaded denote areas of drought.

When developed countries suffer from droughts such as Australia and America it causes no undernourishment, however when Eastern Africa has a drought it causes over 35% of their population to be undernourished. There are also areas such as Mongolia which have huge sways of populations which are undernourished and yet they are not even stricken by droughts. Therefore I can conclude from this that there is more to famine than a natural drought.

What is Drought?

It is a long phase of extraordinary dry weather causing a change in the dynamic equilibrium of an area. It can be best described as well below expected quantities of water in a specific area.

What are the causes of drought?

It is when the ITCZ travels in a northerly or southerly direction with a strip of rain within it. As this moves areas which will usually expect rain are ‘missed out,’ this is particularly true of Africa and its summer rain. Drought in the US, Canada and Brazil is a consequence of El Nino, which occurs when the Pacific is heated up which, in turn alters rain patterns.

Case study of Drought

Case Study: Southern Britain 1976 – An MEDC example

The drought was more than a long hot summer; it was a long sustained period of heavy rainfall and so fits the category of a drought

From the 23rd June onwards for the nest two weeks the temperature exceeded 32�C. Milton Abbas, Dorset had 45 days with no measurable rainfall.

The mean air pressure in Southern England was five millibars above the average, high pressure was constant on the British isles because of the sea surface anomalies in the Atlantic and intensification in the mid latitude westerly area of the Pacific.

The result of this was that many suffered from ill health and caused some forest fires.

The Sahel, Central Africa (1965 to present) – An LEDC example

Thousands of people have died as a result of the extended drought throughout the huge semi-arid transition zone between the Sahara Desert and Equatorial Africa. Nomadic herdsmen have suffered famine, starvation, dislocation, and political strife as a result of the drought. Some 200,000 have died in Ethiopia, along with countless cattle. Other meteorologists think the drought is only a local phenomenon caused by land over-usage. The drought was caused by cattle and goat herds, which stripped away plants and increasing ground reflectivity. This caused more sunlight to be radiated into space. This atmospheric reheating produced dry, hot air layers above the ground, drying it out and discouraging rain cloud formation.

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