Claimed Risks of Starvation in the World - is anyone keeping track?

The BBC currently has a story claiming that “Fighting [over Tigray] has left hundreds of thousands facing starvation”.

Ever since the Taliban came back to power, there have been stories saying that millions of Afghans have been “on the brink of starvation”.

Apparently the UN’s food agencies say that “thousands” are at risk of starvation between February and May this year, in regions distributed across twenty countries.

In September 2021, the Guardian said that 16 million in Yemen were “marching towards starvation” owing to the civil war there.

Does anyone keep track of claims like this?

For example: one could have a database listing all claims of possible mass starvation that appear in major media, along with the source of the claim, whether any starvation actually occurred, whether anything was done to relieve the starvation, and an assessment of whether the original warnings were fact-based or made in good faith.

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You ask the right questions. Is it possible to dredge public data sources? If hundreds of thousands are facing starvation in Tigray, are there actual policy suggestions, which could be implemented, which are not limited to prayer beads and helicopters carrying hay, but which be parts of actual political solutions? Are there specific conflicts in which delivery of material aid might actually facilitate compromise?

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We live in a curated reality, where narrative trumps objective Truth. As a result, many millions of people believe they live in a world that bears no relation to the real one they actually inhabit.

If you are part of liberal left then - for reasons quite beyond my understanding - it seems to help your cause if you can get people to believe that western countries are responsible for most of the ills in the world and certainly responsible for anyone who faces starvation in the developing world, rather thanm say, the leaders of whichever benighted country is the ‘cause du jour’.

If the truth got out that most people, most institutions are not xenophobic - individually or systemically - or that Western countries give more in aid than any other bloc or region, then those NGO’s and Lobbyists would have to find another drum to bang.

Most of those who claim to be in the “Equality” business are actually in the “Grievance” business. They need to promote their grievances and wildly overstate their case or there is no reason for them to continue. Even well-respected Charities collude in this - for fairly obvious reasons. A charity that relies on donations has a vested interest in presenting the statistics that best suit their agenda. That isn’t cynical, necessarily, but it is how charities operate. They are multi-million pound businesses that rely on people giving money to alleviate whatever problem the charity exists to tackle. If the charity downplays the problems then donations dip, if they can make the strongest case for the problem - by using statistics that sound appalling - then donations rise. If you say people are uncomfortable then you don’t foster the necessary level of guilt to increase donations, but say that people are starving and you will. It’s a pretty simple equation.

To take one oft-cited example in the UK - where it would be a stretch to convince the public that their fellow citizens are starving - various childrens’ charities, ably assisted by the BBC & Guardian, like to bandy round the stat that 40% of children in the UK live in poverty. That is clearly a nonsense to anyone who stops to think about it for a moment - but by using the “Relative Poverty” metric they can claim it is fact.

Relative Poverty classes all those who live on 60% of the median income or less as automatically living in poverty. If you were ever unsure as to why Relative Poverty was a completely useless way to identify, measure or tackle poverty, you need only look at when, in recent years, we saw the biggest fall in families classed as living in relative poverty. It was for the two years after the financial crash. Why? Were poorer families better off? It would seem wildly unlikely given the financial squeeze affecting the whole country at that time. No, they were no better off - indeed most would have been materially quite a lot worse off - but they were “lifted out” of relative poverty simply because the median income fell.

So, what does that tell you about a poorer family’s level of poverty over that “golden period”? Absolutely nothing. Yet it suits the activists’ agenda to give the impression that 40% of children - in C21st Britain - are living the lives of Dickensian street-urchins and there seems a distressingly inexhaustible supply of people willing to believe it.

It is the same with the culture-war messaging around race - it would pain activists to admit such a thing but C21st Britain is just about the most diverse, tolerant and un-racist culture that has existed in the history of the world, yet to hear the messaging from certain academics, activists and media organisations, one would think we were on the brink of race-war. It is quite mad. Teaching young black men that they are oppressed, that society doesn’t value them as much, that the police are not to be trusted - Who does that help? Certainly not them, certainly not society. Does it improve their chances of success in life or does it weigh them down with unnecessary baggage? And yet the narrative that politicians and much of the media have allowed to develop in the US, (and by cultural osmosis to be felt here as well) that there is “an epidemic” of White Police officers killing unarmed, or innocent Black people, is demonstrably false and allowing it to be circulated and believed is destroying much of the ground gained by the civil rights movement in decades past.

For each of the anecdotal instances of intolerance that get wheeled out as “proof” of widespread racism, sexism, homophobia, etc etc there are a million other instances of just everyday acceptance of people, - regardless of colour, ethnicity or nationality - that are not worthy of anecdote simply because they are so everyday. We can argue about what has caused this desire in some people to claim we are a nasty, xenophobic, transphobic, intolerant country - but I think anyone honest would agree that it is not in any way an accurate reflection of this country at all - and does us no favours at a time when we should be putting the most positive view of Britain to the rest of the world.

It is all part of the arms-race of hyperbole that seems to infest all political discourse. No one seems to be able to make a measured case for anything anymore, if you want to be taken seriously by the liberal media then you have to ramp up the catastrophism and turn everything up to eleven. If you’re interested in the environment then supposedly you have to believe that the world will be ending in a matter of decades. If you’re interested in geo-politics then whatever country the West has “interfered” in will doubtless see its population suffer starvation.

I think this all came to a head whilst Trump was in the White House and the left had a collective break-down. As awful as any liberal might have thought Trump to be, was locking up and torturing dissidents? Was he forcing people into slavery? Was he gassing them, or killing off his political rivals? The UK gave state visits to the leaders of China, Indonesia, Kuwait (who between them have done all those things) and their visits caused barely a ripple. Yet the visit of the democratic leader of the UK’s most important and closest ally saw all these peopel out on the street protesting.

But try to make a measured case for anything - especially Trump - and see how far that gets you with the liberal left. “What? You only disagree with his policies??” “How very dare you, that isn’t enough, you’ve got to hate, hate , HATE him!!! He is LITERALLY worse than Hitler, blah blah blah” it is childish beyond belief.

The trouble with partisan media outlets - From both sides of the political divide - is that we can now find news that fits our preconceptions. If you are wont to believe thatt Western interference leaves people starving then there are plenty of news outlets that will bring you those stories. Whether or not they are true is of little import.

The proud boast of liberal media used to be “ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT” which has now become “ONLY PRINT THE NEWS THAT FITS”

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OK, this sounds like an organization which might be behind many of these news reports (is there a UN counterpart too? perhaps something at the FAO?). It’s been around since the Ethiopian famine of 1985, and its website has an archive of bulletins dating back to 2005.

But is there an audit of its accuracy over the years? How often does it say famine could be about to happen, and then famine actually happens? Or is it influential enough that when it says, food security is at risk in region X, food aid will be sent to region X, and so the crisis is averted?

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That’s an insightful point.

The more effective such an early warning system is, the less effective its accuracy can be measured. An interesting example of an anti-inductive situation.

RESTAURANT AND VACATION RECOMMENDATIONS

These are typical anti-inductive situations: say you find a perfect vacation spot. The more people know about it, the worse it gets due to overcrowding.

TRAFFIC RECOMMENDATIONS

If the GPS recommends the same alternative route to avoid a traffic jam for everybody, it potentially creates a new traffic jam.

THE HIPSTER DILEMMA

Hipsters have it though. Saying: “I liked X, before it was cool” (for X being an indie band, foreign movie, underground writer etc.) is needed to signal your superior aesthetic taste and intellect, but at the same time devalues the resource X, by making it less obscure.

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