Despite a near media blackout the world is facing one of its greatest humanitarian crises in history in the Horn of Africa, where climate change, civil war, and poverty are combining to create a mass tragedy of epic proportions. The reaction of most politicians in the West is closing their eyes and hoping the problem will all go away. The reason for this is obvious. This is a crisis caused by capitalism and imperialism.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was closing down half of the world and leaving hundreds of thousands dead in its wake, the executive director of the World Food programme warned of an even greater future danger: “multiple famines of biblical proportions”. A global drop in overseas aid as a result of the oncoming world economic slump, he warned, would combine with an increase in natural disasters, wars, and other humanitarian crises to create a truly apocalyptic situation for millions. One thing that he did not predict was the war in Ukraine, which has increased the price of grain worldwide, adding an even deadlier twist to the situation.
At the time, this warning was ignored. But it has now come to pass. Many regions across the world are being thrust into famine conditions, but the largest of these is the Horn of Africa (particularly Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia), which is experiencing its longest and most severe drought in decades. Five rainy seasons have already failed, with the spring rains also predicted to fail. Even worse, this comes on the back of two severe droughts in the last decade, which have not yet been recovered from.
Already, millions have been displaced from their homes. Over 36 million people face “severe food insecurity”. According to a recent report, 50 percent of the population of Somalia currently requires direct humanitarian intervention in order to avoid starvation. More will follow. And these are just the official statistics.
This horror has been worsened by civil wars and conflicts throughout the region, particularly in Somalia and Ethiopia. In the latter, President Abiy Ahmed, a so-called ‘liberal reformer’, waged a war against the Tigrayan provinces for two years, which included blockading all aid from these provinces, cutting off access to food. It has been estimated that 600,000 civilians died in two years, including hundreds of thousands who were deliberately starved. In any other world, this would surely classify as a war crime. But the international bourgeois are far too embarrassed to speak up, having coronated Abiy with a Nobel Peace Prize only one year earlier in 2019.
All this represents nothing less than the slow slide into barbarism in this region of the world.
All the UN can offer in response to this crisis is empty phrases such as the need to ‘build resilience.’ But how can communities ‘build resilience’ in the face of a constantly worsening environmental catastrophe that they didn’t create? Photographs of dams and reservoirs that have completely dried out show that attempts to do this under the current system are futile.
We must not forget that this is coming after centuries of imperialist exploitation of this region. In recent decades, Ethiopia's mines and other state enterprises have been privatised in order to open up to foreign investment. International firms mine gold, potash and other metals, making superprofits whilst utilising child labour and paying workers a pittance.
The situation in Somalia is even worse. Somalia possesses plenty of natural wealth, including some of the most bountiful fishing waters in the world, and yet it is an extremely poor nation vulnerable to famine. Why? European and Asian companies illegally fished in Somali waters for years, selling the fish in the lucrative Asian market, whilst their waters were also used as a free dumping ground for hazardous waste. This is the historic root of Somali ‘piracy’, which many had to turn to simply in order to survive.
We are told that the ‘billions of dollars’ given in humanitarian aid by Western capitalist nations is to develop economies in Africa. But the reality of the situation is the opposite. International capitalism dominates these nations financially, looting their natural resources, and burying them in debt whilst tossing a few crumbs back under the table as ‘aid’.
But even by the hypocritical standards of capitalist ‘foreign aid’, the cupboard is bare. Last year the UN set a target to raise $3.7bn to alleviate the worst of the famine in the region. As of the end of the year, they had barely raised half of this amount.
By comparison, this year, up to $100bn in ‘aid’ (most of which will be spent on weapons) will be poured into the US-led proxy war in Ukraine. According to the World Food Program, less than a tenth of that would be needed to feed every starving person this year.
Under capitalism, there is always more money for war, and for subsiding the profits of bankers and big business. Yet somehow, the money needed to counter hunger, scarcity and climate change is constantly just out of reach.
In terms of the impact of climate change, the Horn of Africa is now in completely unprecedented territory. And the worst is yet to come. “Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis,” Michael Dunford, the WFP’s director for eastern Africa, said. “If you think 2022 is bad, beware of what is coming in 2023.”
Across the world, 2022 has been described as a “year of drought”. From China, to North America, to Africa and even in Europe, we saw rivers and lakes sink to record-breaking lows, whole communities threatened by wildfires, and terrible harvests. In October 2022, the UN released a report which suggested that whole regions of Africa and Asia, in particular highly populated areas of India, could become uninhabitable by the end of the century if ‘business as usual’ continues. This would potentially displace hundreds of millions of people.
Just like with all the other horrors of capitalism, those that cause climate change rarely have to deal with the consequences. The millions who suffer are the ones who bear no responsibility for the crisis in the first place.
At Davos this year, this was even admitted by the UN General Secretary:
“Today, fossil fuel producers and their enablers are still racing to expand production, knowing full well that this business model is inconsistent with human survival.”
Yet while fossil fuel companies line their pockets, millions of innocent people are displaced from their homes, losing their livelihoods or even basic access to fuel and water. As much as we are told to ignore the elephant in the room, this is the future for huge parts of the world, unless capitalism is overthrown.
The ability to solve the climate crisis lies in our own hands. Although it would require a great deal of investment, it would be possible for a global planned economy to both drastically cut carbon emissions and to carry out mitigation measures to ameliorate the damage that has already been done. What is getting in the way is that it is not profitable for them to do so.
The World Food Programme, and all other forms of so-called humanitarian aid, represent little more than a band-aid over a bullet wound; a convenient way for the international bourgeoisie to assuage their own guilt and whitewash the problems that they themselves have caused.
But in a world which is rapidly hurtling towards humanitarian disaster as a product of recession, climate change and war, the need for economic planning is more obvious than ever. Even today, more than enough food is produced to support the Earth’s population, and this is on the basis of disorganised private agriculture, and poor infrastructure. An international socialist planned economy would be able to get resources where they actually need to go, as well as investing to actually increase agricultural output to reflect the growing population. And while we know that the resources in society exist to deal with climate change, under capitalism, they cannot be mobilised, as this would involve taking a cut out of the profits of big business.
With a rational redistribution of the Earth’s resources, we will be able to invest in the infrastructure to both deal with climate change long term, and reorganise the world’s agriculture to support our rapidly growing population. By contrast, if the bosses are left in charge, they will continue to run the world as a money making machine, driving us further down the path of famine and climate catastrophe.