The good news is that famine has declined precipitously in the past few decades. Post-1980 there are fewer incidents of mass starvation, and fewer deaths during the famines that do occur. de Waal – who coined the term “famine crime” several decades ago while studying famine in Sudan and Ethiopia – explains that colonialism, totalitarianism, communism and international war largely explain the famines that occurred before 1980, while subsequent famines have been attributed to civil war. He adds that famines have increasingly become a political tool or a component of mass atrocities, and have diminished as political freedoms have expanded.
As well, the humanitarian sector has become increasingly sophisticated. For instance, aid workers learned painful lessons about the militarization of aid during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in the 1990s, when civilians were killed by both the US military and outraged crowds. Another important event showing the problems of humanitarian logic was the provision of aid to refugees in eastern Zaire fleeing (and in some cases perpetrating) the Rwandan genocide, but the relative inability to support those left within Rwanda’s borders because their food insecurity didn’t fit within existing humanitarian categories.