Famines are Man-Made Disasters
Images continue to beam around the world of the famine taking place in Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Nigeria. The situation is stark, 20 million people in four countries are facing starvation and death. This famine is said to be the largest humanitarian crisis in the history of the UN -created in 1945 after World War 2. Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council on Friday 11th March 2017 that “without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death” and “many more will suffer and die from disease.”
A famine is considered a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including crop failure and population imbalance amongst a few. In recent history, millions have died from such famines. The Soviet Union’s attempts at communist collectivisation led to the death of over 7 million Ukrainians. Chinese efforts with Communism led to the Great Famine from 1958-1962, causing the deaths of up to 42 million. Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Uganda, Somalia and Congo to list a few suffer from regular famines. Whilst famines are a regular occurrence across the world, on closer inspection there is very little natural about them.
The Politics of Famine
Deaths from famine are man-made and the causes are always linked back to wars, conflicts, corrupt governments, neglect by rulers, national, political and economic interests to list a few. Both China and the Soviet Union did not lack wheat or food when they inflicted famines upon their people.
Somalia has been at war since 1995 with numerous foreign interventions and amongst a whole host of issues famine has been a regular parallel occurrence. The worst affected areas in Somalia are those areas where war has been on-going for decades. Western donor governments have been reticent in case their aid fell into the hands of their adversary. US laws imply that humanitarian workers in Somalia would be liable to prosecution and 15 years imprisonment if the aid they were distributing fell into the hands of as-Shabaab.
In 2014 the New York Times had the following to say about Sudan: “South Sudan is in many ways an American creation, carved out of war-torn Sudan in a referendum largely orchestrated by the United States, its fragile institutions nurtured with billions of dollars in American aid. But a murky, vicious conflict there has left the Obama administration scrambling to prevent the unravelling of a major American achievement in Africa.” Emma Jane Drew, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Programme Manager in South Sudan described the famine as “a man-made tragedy. People have been pushed to the brink of surviving on what they can find to eat in swamps. We need an end to the fighting so that we can get food to those that urgently need it and provide them with support to rebuild their shattered lives.”
The Economics of Famine
Many of the poorest countries in the world have been receiving aid from international institutes for decades. Sudan, Somalia and Yemen are some of the poorest countries in the world, despite their mineral wealth and decades of aid and donor nations providing for them. It is donor nations that fund the various UN programmes that distribute food aid to poor countries. This means the whole system to get the poor out of poverty is a donor-driven system, that promotes domestic interests of donor countries, who have foreign policy objectives and development is not the goal.
Powerful countries ignore humanitarian crises when it doesn’t suit their geopolitical interests. In 2005 they promised to “Make Poverty History,” yet today more than 3 billion people live on less than $2 per day. Almost all the promises of aid and debt relief were abandoned soon after the conference ended back in 2005.
But this is nothing new, in the Irish famine of the 19th Century, the British Government was more concerned about reforming its people’s “aboriginal” nature than with saving lives.
In reality, the world does not lack resources and the Muslim world doesn’t lack wealth, but rather the political will, a sincere leader and a system that cares. For example, the Saudi ‘King’ is worth £13 billion and is currently on a lavish tour to Asia. Similarly, the Qatari Government will spend about £138 billion hosting the 2022 World Cup. Today, there is more wealth generated than ever before, but this wealth is not circulating. Oxfam’s February 2017 report into global wealth found that that just eight people had as much wealth as half of the world’s population. This is an indictment on the Capitalist nation-state world order.
All that is needed for all four affected countries by July “to avert a catastrophe” is $4.4bn (£3.6bn), according to the UN.
Islam and Famines
In 1845, the onset of the Great Irish Famine resulted in over a million deaths. Ottoman Sultan Khaleefah Abdul-Majid I declared his intention to send 10,000 sterling to Irish farmers but Queen Victoria requested that the Sultan send only 1,000 sterling, because she had sent only 2,000 sterling herself. The Sultan sent the 1,000 sterling but also secretly sent 3 ships full of food. The English courts tried to block the ships, but the food arrived in Drogheda harbor and was left there by Ottoman sailors. Due to this the Irish people, especially those in Drogheda, are friendly to the Turks. A ruler who cares about his people is what is needed today.
The Khilafah is not a union of independent states like the EU or an empire where wealth is taken from the regions and concentrated in the capital. The Muslim Ummah is one and its suffering is one.
مَثَلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ كَمَثَلِ الْجَسَدِ إِذَا أَلِمَ بَعْضُهُ تَدَاعَى سَائِرُهُ
The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “The example of the believers is like the body, if part of it hurts the rest of it is summoned.” [Ahmed]
It is one state with a central government, divided up administratively into provinces (wiliayaat). If any province of the Khilafah suffers a disaster such as a famine then funds will be collected from all other provinces to alleviate the problem. The Charities Department (Diwan as-Sadaqat) and the Public Properties department of the Treasury (Bait a-Mal) will allocate funds to the famine. Natural resources like oil cannot be owned by individual royal families to misuse as they please, buying super cars, foreign football clubs and propping up western interest-based banks. They are public resources owned by the citizens of the Khilafah.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said:
وَأَيُّمَا أَهْلُ عَرْصَةٍ أَصْبَحَ فِيهِمْ امْرُؤٌ جَائِعٌ فَقَدْ بَرِئَتْ مِنْهُمْ ذِمَّةُ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى
“Whenever the people of an area wake up with a hungry person amongst them, then Allah’s covenant and protection to them is absolved.” (reported by Ahmad from Ibn Umar, and authenticated by Ahmad Shakir).
And it is narrated from the Prophet (saw) from what he related from Allah (swt):
مَا آمَنَ بِي مَنْ بَاتَ شَبْعَانَ وَجَارُهُ جَائِعٌ وَهُوَ يَعْلَمُ
“One who goes to bed full while he knows that his neighbour is hungry, does not believe in Me” (reported by Al-Bazzar from Anas with a chain considered Hasan by Al-Haythami and Al-Mundhiri).
Islam places a heavy responsibility to help those who are hungry. This was why the Muslims in the past took this issue extremely seriously. In the year 18AH during the Khilafah of Umar ibn al-Khattab the Arabian Peninsula was struck by a severe famine and drought, and hunger grew so severe that the wild animals started coming in to the towns, and if a man slaughtered a sheep he would not be able to eat it because it was so scrawny, and the flocks died of hunger. This year was called the year of ar-Ramadah because the wind blew the dust around like ashes (ar-ramad) [Dr Ali Muhammad as-Sallabi, “Umar ibn al-Khattab his life and times,” Vol. 1, p. 409].
Umar was the Khaleefah and took personal control of resolving the famine. He made an oath that he would not taste any meat or ghee until the famine was over and the people went back to normal.
He established refugee camps in the desert for the thousands of Arabs who converged on Madina. Umar set up an institution to help the refugees and appointed workers at these camps. He divided the work up so every worker knew exactly what he was supposed to be doing, and did not duplicate the work assigned to someone else. He appointed people in different parts of Madina to supervise the distribution of food. When evening came, they would meet with him and tell him about what they had done, and he would give them further instructions. Umar also worked in the refugee camps.
Umar had already established an institution called Dar ad-Daqeeq with the purpose of distributing food to those who came to Madina. It distributed flour, saweeq, dates and raisins from its stores before supplies arrived from the other regions of the state.
Umar also wrote to all his governors in Egypt, Iraq, Persia and Syria requesting they send aid. All responded and sent huge quantities of aid to the capital.
The people of Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and Sudan need Khilafah. But more than that, the world needs Islamic values to end the man made misery Capitalism has created.