Author (Your Name)

Jon Bolton, Colby College

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Government Dept.




The twentieth century is likely to hold the dubious distinction of being the century in which more people will die of famine than any other. While the growth of technology and prosperity that characterized this century has been unprecedented in the history of humankind, this growth has not been distributed equally throughout the world, producing regions, even entire continents, characterized by abject poverty. Added to this, the purposeful exploitation of many of these underdeveloped regions by Northern colonizers and slavers in the last century has created chronically unstable and underdeveloped countries in which famine is a constant threat. Thus, disasters such as droughts or floods, which would cause only relatively minor damage in a developed country such as the United States, can completely devastate an unstable, underdeveloped country such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh, or many others. In recent years, increased awareness in the North of the problem of famine has led to several major attempts to alleviate famine by Northern governments, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations. Relief operations in Bangladesh in the 1970's, Ethiopia and the Sudan in the 1980's, and Somalia in the 1990's garnered widespread media attention and public support in Northern countries, particularly the United States, where media publicity and"massive benefit concerts such as LIVE AID raised awareness of third world famine and poverty to unprecedented levels. Enormous amounts of money and food aid were shipped into these countries, fueled by governments, the United Nations, and many thousands of private donors, with the purpose of preventing widespread starvation and, ostensibly, helping the country restore long-term food security for its people. It was implicit in fundraising drives that most Northerners were exposed to that if only the North would send large quantities of food and money to the famine-stricken countries, the famines would be relieved. What was omitted from these public relations campaigns was the fact that major donors and relief agencies often had hidden political agendas wrapped up with their humanitarianism. Cold War ideology, balance of power concerns, and self-aggrandizement all played a part in the major famine relief operations of recent times. In addition, the political agendas of recipient governments were often responsible for creating or exacerbating famine, creating ethical dilemmas for donors attempting to gain access to areas which the host governments would prefer to remain helpless. Thus, raising the money and getting the thousands of tons of grain to the famine stricken country is often a far smaller problem than actually getting food to the people who most desperately need it.


Food relief -- Political aspects, International relief -- Political aspects

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