It is widely recognised that famines are caused by political action, ranging from the deprivation of food, and the pursuit of political, economic and military objectives to culpable neglect. According to the World Food Programme, ten of the 13 largest food crises in the world – including those in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Yemen – are not only driven by conflicts, but are the product of deliberate war tactics that include crippling economies and starving populations.
In Yemen, 12 million people are facing starvation from an economic blockade in a country dependent on imports for 90 percent of its food, from deliberate and targeted airstrikes on local farms and fisheries and from explicit decisions by warring parties and their Western allies to block humanitarian aid. Lawyers and policymakers have recently begun condemning starvation as a weapon of war, whether through an acknowledgement by the United Nations Security Council of the direct links between armed conflict and famine, or by using the international legal framework to more strongly condemn ‘starvation crimes’ as a weapon of war and a violation of human rights. But it is yet unclear how such increased recognition will change behaviour and outcomes on the ground.
Delivering the HPG Annual Lecture this year is Alex de Waal, Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation, Research Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University and author of the 2018 book ‘Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine’. The lecture examines current political and legal developments related to mass starvation and their implications for humanitarian action and political accountability.