The Nuclear Escalation Before The End

Opinion: what’s driving world back to MAD old days of nuclear weapons?
It can be hard not to lose heart these days after going through daily news headlines. Sometimes history seems to be moving backwards. The absurdity often makes one wonder if the world is going mad.

Among the crazy things that took place this week, here is one that is not getting much attention: the United Nations called for a meeting on Tuesday to continue negotiations for a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons, but nearly 40 countries – including the US, China, Russia, Britain and France – decided to skip it. None of the participants from the 100 countries attending the meeting belong to the group of states in possession of nuclear weapons.

US Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley said the US would not join negotiations concerning a United Nations nuclear weapons ban treaty. Photo: AFP
US envoy Nikki Haley explained afterwards that national security concerns required Washington to keep its nuclear weapons because of “bad actors” who could not be trusted. “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic,” she told reporters. “Is there anyone who believes that North Korea would agree to ban nuclear weapons?”

China, Russia, Britain and other nuclear powers did not even talk to the media.

If Kim Jong-un were watching the news, he would probably have a big smirk on his face. Yes, Kim is a cold-blooded power-hungry maniac. But judging from what happened on Tuesday, leaders of the world’s major capitals are probably just as callous.

While North Korea is aspiring to build a few nuclear bombs, the big five – US, China, Russia, France and Britain – are sitting on arsenals that between them could destroy this planet many times over. Still, none of them feel they have enough.

For those born in the 1980s or later, the threat of a nuclear war seems remote. But for older generations, such a threat was once very real. From the end of the second world war until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, fears of a nuclear Armageddon were widespread.

At the peak of the cold war, all major powers devoted precious national resources to building their nuclear capacities, with the US and the USSR leading the race. The atomic bombs the US dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war were powerful, but they were mere popguns compared to the thermonuclear weapons of the cold war era.

The cold war stand-off established the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine. According to MAD, major nuclear powers would refrain from direct conflict because a nuclear exchange would result in the complete annihilation of both sides. Some historians credited this balance of nuclear deterrence as an important factor behind the longest period of peace in modern history, with no war breaking out between major powers for almost 70 years.

Dread of a nuclear holocaust forced world leaders to cool the hysteria. The end of the cold war brought brief hopes of optimism. But today, the situation is getting more dangerous.

After a brief slump, spending on nuclear weapons by major powers has increased again. Meanwhile, many emerging powers are trying to get their hands on such weapons. It seems that a nation has to own some weapons of mass destruction before it can be truly sit at the “big boys’ table”.

India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have all joined the nuclear club, with Iran, Japan and even South Korea at various stages of acquiring membership.

Globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at US$105 billion. In comparison, the Office for Disarmament Affairs, the principal UN body responsible for advancing a nuclear-weapon-free world, has an annual budget of US$10 million.

Two studies, one by the Brookings Institution and another by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently drew the same conclusion: governments around the world are going to spend a crazy amount of money on nuclear weapons in the next decade.

Together, nine major nuclear countries will spend a staggering US$1 trillion on new research, production and maintenance of nuclear arms over the next 10 years. At a time of economic crises and imposed austerity measures, world leaders led by US president Donald Trump have decided to cut investment on education, health care and climate change so that we can have more powerful weapons of mass destruction.

Opinion: what’s driving world back to MAD old days of nuclear weapons?

It can be hard not to lose heart these days after going through daily news headlines. Sometimes history seems to be moving backwards. The absurdity often makes one wonder if the world is going mad.

Among the crazy things that took place this week, here is one that is not getting much attention: the United Nations called for a meeting on Tuesday to continue negotiations for a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons, but nearly 40 countries – including the US, China, Russia, Britain and France – decided to skip it. None of the participants from the 100 countries attending the meeting belong to the group of states in possession of nuclear weapons.

US Ambassador to the United Nation Nikki Haley said the US would not join negotiations concerning a United Nations nuclear weapons ban treaty. Photo: AFP
US envoy Nikki Haley explained afterwards that national security concerns required Washington to keep its nuclear weapons because of “bad actors” who could not be trusted. “There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic,” she told reporters. “Is there anyone who believes that North Korea would agree to ban nuclear weapons?”

China, Russia, Britain and other nuclear powers did not even talk to the media.

If Kim Jong-un were watching the news, he would probably have a big smirk on his face. Yes, Kim is a cold-blooded power-hungry maniac. But judging from what happened on Tuesday, leaders of the world’s major capitals are probably just as callous.

While North Korea is aspiring to build a few nuclear bombs, the big five – US, China, Russia, France and Britain – are sitting on arsenals that between them could destroy this planet many times over. Still, none of them feel they have enough.

For those born in the 1980s or later, the threat of a nuclear war seems remote. But for older generations, such a threat was once very real. From the end of the second world war until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, fears of a nuclear Armageddon were widespread.

At the peak of the cold war, all major powers devoted precious national resources to building their nuclear capacities, with the US and the USSR leading the race. The atomic bombs the US dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war were powerful, but they were mere popguns compared to the thermonuclear weapons of the cold war era.

The cold war stand-off established the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine. According to MAD, major nuclear powers would refrain from direct conflict because a nuclear exchange would result in the complete annihilation of both sides. Some historians credited this balance of nuclear deterrence as an important factor behind the longest period of peace in modern history, with no war breaking out between major powers for almost 70 years.

Dread of a nuclear holocaust forced world leaders to cool the hysteria. The end of the cold war brought brief hopes of optimism. But today, the situation is getting more dangerous.

What China can learn from Trump, the Soviets and Kublai Khan

After a brief slump, spending on nuclear weapons by major powers has increased again. Meanwhile, many emerging powers are trying to get their hands on such weapons. It seems that a nation has to own some weapons of mass destruction before it can be truly sit at the “big boys’ table”.

India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have all joined the nuclear club, with Iran, Japan and even South Korea at various stages of acquiring membership.

Globally, annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is estimated at US$105 billion. In comparison, the Office for Disarmament Affairs, the principal UN body responsible for advancing a nuclear-weapon-free world, has an annual budget of US$10 million.

Two studies, one by the Brookings Institution and another by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recently drew the same conclusion: governments around the world are going to spend a crazy amount of money on nuclear weapons in the next decade.

Together, nine major nuclear countries will spend a staggering US$1 trillion on new research, production and maintenance of nuclear arms over the next 10 years. At a time of economic crises and imposed austerity measures, world leaders led by US president Donald Trump have decided to cut investment on education, health care and climate change so that we can have more powerful weapons of mass destruction.

The plight of Chinese Indonesians: distrusted in Jakarta, forgotten in China

Last year, Washington gave the green light to a new generation of “smart” nuclear bombs – the B61-12s – which will be the most expensive ever produced. Moscow and Beijing both expressed concerns and hinted they would respond in kind. This year, Chinese scientists announced a theoretical breakthrough in developing the so-called “N2 bomb” – a new type of weapon of mass destruction that is as strong as a nuclear bomb but produces no radioactive fallout.

The chance of a hot nuclear war among major powers remains astronomically small. The only real reason for them to continue pouring precious resources into the arms race is because they cannot break out of their cold war mentalities.

Today, terrorism, climate change and contagious diseases are much bigger and more realistic threats to the world than invasion by Moscow or a nuclear war between Beijing and Washington.

The only real nightmare is for such weapons to fall into the hands of terrorists.

No matter how much major powers improve their nuclear arsenals, it will not deter terrorists – there is no such thing as nuclear retaliation against people who want to see the world blow up.

A World Bank study estimated that if governments cut their spending on nuclear weapons by half and used the money on poverty alleviation, it would have been possible to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

It would be naïve to ask the major powers to give up their nuclear weapons, but if they could divert more resources to fighting poverty, terrorism and global warming, we would have a much safer, better world. ■

Chow Chung-yan is the executive editor of the South China Morning Post, overseeing daily print and digital operations

The Impending Nuclear War (Revelation 15)

Doomsday is approaching: Nuclear danger posed by Trump has only grown

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
AlterNet

As if you didn’t have other things to worry about, add “think about the threat of nuclear war” to your to-do list.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says we are, metaphorically speaking, only two and half minutes away from nuclear doomsday — the Bulletin’s closest Armageddon estimate since the early 1980s. Former Defense Secretary William Perry says he is “terrified.” Novelist Philip Roth says what is most frightening about President Donald Trump “is that he makes any and everything possible, including, of course, the nuclear catastrophe.”

And the hell of our predicament, experts say, is that Trump’s emotional instability is only part of the problem. The 45th president sits atop a command and control system that is already aging, prone to accidents and vulnerable to hacking, according to Eric Schlosser, author of “Command and Control,” a gripping history of the U.S. nuclear complex.

And the American political economy offers vast incentives to those who want to expand and modernize America’s nuclear arsenal, instead of reducing and restraining it, as policymakers across the political spectrum recommend.

Before the 2016 election, Schlosser said the notion of Trump “with the launch codes, capable of devastating cities and countries, is extraordinary. It’s like the plot out of a science-fiction film.”

Now that film is reality, and the opening scenes are already scary.

Cold War to Gold War

The early hopes that Trump’s admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin might translate into a new nuclear arms agreement went a-glimmering on Feb. 24 when Trump told Reuters that he thought the existing U.S. Russia accord, known as New START, was “one-sided.”

In fact, the New START treaty limits both countries to the same number of deployed nuclear warheads — 1,550 — by Feb. 2018. And, in any case, Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that the United States could reduce its nuclear arsenal by a third without harm to U.S. security.

Mr. Trump’s comments suggest, once again, that he is ill-informed about nuclear weapons and has a poor understanding of the unique dangers of nuclear weapons,” said Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

“Discarding New START would irresponsibly free Russia of any limits on its strategic nuclear arsenal and would terminate the inspections that provide the United States with significant additional transparency about Russian strategic nuclear forces,” Kimball wrote.

The United States is going from “Cold War to Gold War,” said Tom Collina, director of policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security group in Washington, D.C. He noted that when Trump recently announced plans to seek an additional $54 billion in defense spending, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that a key priority would be “restoring our nuclear capabilities,” meaning more money for nuclear weapons.

“To be fair,” Collina adds, “Trump did not start this arms race. That dubious distinction goes to former President Obama, who set the United States on a misguided course to spend more than $1 trillion on nuclear weapons over the next three decades.”

What can be done?

Perry, a scientist who served as defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, is hoping for a meeting with Trump and/or his national security team, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has said some sensible things about reducing nuclear weapons.

Perry’s message for the Trump administration is stark.

We are starting a new Cold War,” he told Politico. “We seem to be sleepwalking into this new nuclear arms race. . . . We and the Russians and others don’t understand what we are doing.”

To get a grip on nuclear reality, you could do worse than take Perry’s online course on “Living at the Nuclear Brink.”

Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Representative Ted Lieu of California, both Democrats, have proposed legislation to prohibit any president from launching a first-strike nuclear weapon without a declaration of war from Congress.

You can sign a petition supporting the Markey-Lieu bill; more than 139,000 people already have.

You can join GlobalZero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Yet, the Pentagon is actually pressing for more nuclear weapons. In a recent report, the Defense Science Board recommended “a more flexible nuclear enterprise” that could include a “tailored nuclear option for limited use” and “lower yield, primary-only options.”

“With Trump’s call to ‘expand’ the U.S. nuclear arsenal, there is a growing possibility that these recommendations could turn into reality,” write Philip E. Coyle and James McKeon, analysts at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, in Politico.

“This is terrifying,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in the Washington Post, “and deserves a swift, full-throated rebuke.”

Antidote to dread

The only antidote to dread, said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association, is action.

“Objectively speaking, the risk of nuclear weapons use is greater now than it has been at any time [since the end of the Cold War], though it is not as severe [as] during the worst crises of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War,” Kimball, a 27-year veteran of disarmament work, told AlterNet in an email.

“It is not just the uncertainty about Trump’s impulses about nuclear weapons and his temperament, but the growing regional tensions on the Korean Peninsula, in South Asia and with Russia that could lead to nuclear consequences,” he wrote.

“Now, as in the past, there are practical solutions that can steer us away from the precipice and we must all look for way to work together to effectively engage our elected leaders to take the actions that reduce the nuclear dangers. As the old saying goes, ‘don’t mourn, organize!’”

Korea Prepares For Sixth Iranian Nuke Test

North Korea to fire nuclear missile THIS MONTH in terrifying warning to US

“North Korea is likely to carry out provocative acts, such as a nuclear test” Chang Cheol-un

The despot nation has a calendar full of anniversaries in April, with citizens expecting a huge display of power.

Tubby tyrant Kim Jong-un has previously used these events to launch long-range rockets and conduct nuclear tests.

And on the biggest holiday of the country, the 105th birthday celebration of Kim’s deceased grandad, Kim Il-sung, the rotund ruler could conduct his biggest ever nuclear launch.

The north is known to be preparing a massive military parade at Mirim Airport, Pyongyang, so the nuke could coincide with this.

Far Eastern studies researcher Chang Cheol-un said: “To maximise the festive mood of the April anniversaries, North Korea is likely to carry out provocative acts, such as a nuclear test.

Kim will also celebrate his own leadership anniversary, marking five years in the job on April 13 after the death of his dad Kim Jong-il.

Intelligence officers have speculated what type of missile the north could fire, with the general consensus being it will be a new type of test.

Military parades in the communist country are often scrutinised by military experts to get an early glimpse at the equipment they could be packing for a potential war with the US.

Kim has threatened the US on many occasions with actual war over their positioning of military personnel close to their border.

And his latest threat came after senator John McCain labelled him “the crazy fat kid that runs North Korea”.

This could involve the dastardly dictator firing two nukes at once, or the deadly H-Bomb believed to be at North Korea’s disposal.

Another of the north’s missiles, the mid-range IRBM named the Pukguksong-II could be fired by Kim.

Indian Point Will Contaminate The Hudson With Plutonium At The Sixth Seal

Part of Indian Point nuclear plant still shut after transformer fire

AP
Sunday, May 10, 2015 06:35PM
BUCHANAN —

Part of a nuclear power plant remained offline Sunday after a transformer fire crea ted another problem: thousands of gallons of oil leaking into the Hudson River.
At an afternoon briefing, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said emergency crews were out on the water near Buchanan trying to contain and clean up the transformer fluid that leaked from Indian Point 3.

“There’s no doubt that oil was discharged into the Hudson River,” Cuomo said. “Exactly how much, we don’t know.”

The transformer at the plant about 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan failed on Saturday evening, causing a fire that forced the automatic shutdown.

Cuomo revealed Sunday that even after the blaze on the non-nuclear side of the plant was quickly doused, the heat reignited the fire, but it was again extinguished.

Oil in the transformer seeped into a holding tank that did not have the capacity to contain all the fluid, which then entered river waters through a discharge drain.

Joseph Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said measures were taken to keep the oil from spreading, including setting up booms over an area about 300 feet in diameter in the water.

The cleanup should take a day or two, Cuomo said.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said several thousand gallons of oil may have overflowed the transformer moat.

The reactor itself was deemed safe and stable throughout, said a spokesman for owner Entergy Corp. The plant’s adjacent Unit 2 reactor was not affected and remained in operation.

The Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan supplies electricity for millions of homes, businesses and public facilities in New York City and Westchester County.

“These situations we take very seriously. Luckily this was not a major situation. But the emergency protocols are very important,” Cuomo said Saturday. “I take nothing lightly when it comes to this plant specifically.”

The transformer at Indian Point 3 takes energy created by the plant and changes the voltage for the grid supplying power to the state. The blaze, which sent black smoke billowing into the sky, was extinguished by a sprinkler system and on-site personnel, Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi said. Westchester County police and fire were on site as a precaution.

It was not immediately clear what caused the failure, or whether the transformer would be repaired or replaced. Nappi said there were no health or safety risks.

Officials did not know how long the 1,000-megawatt reactor would be down. Entergy is investigating the failure.

Cuomo said there had been too many emergencies recently involving Indian Point. Unit 3 was shut down Thursday morning for an unrelated issue – a water leak on the non-nuclear side of the plant. It was repaired and there was no radioactive release, Nappi said.

In March, Unit 3 was shut down for a planned refueling that took about a month.

“We have to get to the bottom of this,” the governor said.

Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said an agency inspector was at the site Sunday and the agency would follow up as Indian Point assesses the affected equipment.

She said there was no impact on the public, and it was not out of the ordinary for a transformer to have a problem.

The environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper issued a statement Sunday saying the latest Indian Point accident proves that the plant should be closed for good.

The Third Seal: Famine (Revelation 6:6)

How a famine happens: The tale of South Sudan Just what went wrong in the world’s youngest country?

Last month, UN agencies declared a famine in parts of South Sudan, making it the first country since Somalia in 2011 to be declared famine hit. The world’s youngest nation is in the throes of a civil war that has not only created one of the pressing global internal displacement and refugee crisis, but also actively precipitated the famine.

As pictures of jubilant celebrations in the streets of its capital, Juba, were splashed across global newspapers a day after the country’s birth in 2011, few would have imagined that the country would be reduced to such a sorry state a mere six years later. Independence was seen as a great victory for the people, who for generations were brutally oppressed by the Arab-dominated north Sudan.

What went wrong? The answer lies in the violent, decades-long freedom struggle waged by the people of South Sudan, power lust among its principal leaders and the commodity that has made and unmade nations—oil.

***

There is an old Sudanese proverb, “When god made Sudan, he laughed.” Meant to refer to the incredible riches and beauty of the land, the country’s violent history imbues it with dark irony.

Known to be home to valuable materials such as ebony and ivory since the 25th century BC, it had been a major trading partner of Egypt since Biblical times. In the following centuries, it saw the rise of Christianity, which gave way to Islam in the wake of Arab invasions.

Over time, the northern region, famed for its gems, saw the settlement of Arab miners and merchants. The area was laid claim to by the Ottomans in the early 19th century, and subsequently, by the great European powers, particularly the British, after the opening of the Suez Canal.

All through this, the nomadic tribes of South Sudan were taken captive by the merchants and sold, forming the crux of the Arab slave trade from the horn of Africa. Samuel Baker, a British explorer in 1862, vividly noted the role the slave trade played in the keeping Khartoum going as a bustling town. The British, who ruled Sudan jointly with the Egyptians, focused primarily on maintaining power over the north. Little interest was paid to the south, where the missionaries were allowed to operate freely.

While the British and the Egyptians finally ceded control in 1956, the prospect of Arab-led domination of the south, which comprised mainly Christians and tribes following traditional beliefs, led to a massive revolt in 1955, a year before the formal declaration of Sudanese independence.

This bloody uprising, known the first Sudanese civil war, lasted 17 years until 1972. After maintaining a fragile peace accord for a decade, Sudanese government’s declaration of the country as an Islamic state under the Sharia law sparked the descent into chaos again.

The second Sudanese civil war, led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and its military wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, lasted 22 years until 2005, making it among the longest civil wars of the modern era.

The cost of the two wars was brutal—more than 2.5 million people, about one-fifth of the population, died of fighting, famines, disease and displacement.

The southern faction, led mainly by the Dinka and the Nuer, raged internal fratricidal wars as well. However, the all-consuming need to fight for independence pushed the conflict to the backburner.

International pressure on the Sudanese government and the mounting costs of war led to a comprehensive peace agreement being adopted in 2005, which promised a referendum to the people of South Sudan after a period of six years. In 2011, when the referendum was held, the south overwhelmingly—98.83%—voted in favour of secession. On 9 July 2011, the world’s newest country was born.

As celebrations went through the night in Juba, the newly anointed capital, there was an outpour of diplomatic euphoria. “It is a reminder that, after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible,” said then US president Barack Obama, granting the newly formed country immediate recognition.

Yet South Sudan—with its ethnic divisions, chief among them between the Dinka (~35% of the population) and the Nuer (~16% of the population), dependence on oil to sustain the economy (about 60% of the GDP and 95% of government revenues), minimal infrastructure and high levels of militarization—was prone to falling into a conflict trap.

In July 2013, Riek Machar, the deputy president and a member of the Nuer tribe, was dismissed by Salva Kiir, the president and a member of the Dinka tribe, on charges of plotting a coup. Efforts to disarm the Nuer presidential guards suspected of being close to Machar led to the outbreak of hostilities.

Dinka soldiers ran amok in Juba and reportedly indulged in mass slaughter of Nuer civilians. The Machar camp retaliated and, soon enough, the country was in a state of civil war.

Since the outbreak of hostilities, the fight has often centred on oil, leading to large-scale displacements in the two oil producing regions of Unity and Upper Nile.

The human toll of the civil war has been punishing. According to data from the UN High Commission for Refugees, Upper Nile had about 140,000 registered refugees, followed by the Unity region where the count stood at about 100,000. However, the total number of internally displaced people is an order of magnitude higher at 1.85 million (one-sixth of the population) as per the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Unity region, which is Nuer dominated and the home of Riek Machar, has been at the forefront of this violence. It alone accounts for about 45% of the total internally displaced population.

While the world’s attention has focused on Syria and the concerns of leaders of Europe and the US, the horn of Africa, among the poorest regions in the world, is facing a particular strain by catering to almost a million refugees, mainly arising from South Sudan and Somalia.

Ethiopia has borne a lion’s share of this burden, hosting close to 750,000 refugees, making it the fifth highest refugee destination in the world.

The human toll of the war in South Sudan has been compounded by the economic consequences which has been disastrous for the country.

Its oil production, the lifeblood of the economy, has seen a precipitous decline. From a high of half a million barrels of oil production per day in 2011, South Sudan now pumps a quarter of that at 130,000 barrels per day.

With the government’s resources rapidly drying up, exchange rates have deteriorated sharply, sending prices soaring and the economy into a tailspin (see chart below). The hyperinflationary conditions have ensured basic necessities are either unavailable or simply unaffordable to the locals.

Large-scale displacement due to conflict has worsened the impact of soaring inflation. Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglie (another critically affected province) contain 40% of the country’s total cropland.

With the population almost entirely dependent on agriculture, large-scale displacement has wreaked havoc in local ecosystems and the agricultural economy, affecting supply and access.

The geographic, economic and political conditions have created the vortex that has thrown South Sudan towards this man-made famine.

As seen in this figure, the situation is grim across the country, with 100,000 people in Unity state facing starvation due to famine. Close to a million are on the brink of a famine and almost half the population, 5 million, is at crisis levels of food insecurity and worse.

***

The declaration of famine is not a straightforward act. It is made collectively by multiple parties: the affected country’s government, agencies of the UN and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, set up by the US government in 1980s to collect and analyse data from various sources.

Given the multiplicity of parties, there are always multiple viewpoints to contend with. Moreover, the declaration itself contains political undertones and implications. Countries often find it hard to outlive the international stigma of a famine. A case in point is Ethiopia. Famine in 1980s and its media coverage has saddled the country with a misplaced reputation of mass poverty, even though it is presently the fastest growing economy globally.

The second challenge is that of data itself. Officially, famine is declared when the following three criteria are met:

• At least one in five households face extreme lack of food

• Thirty per cent or more of the population suffers from acute malnutrition

• At least 2 in every 10,000 people are dying each day

Given the specificity of the requirements and challenges of data collection in an unstable region, UN agencies and the country’s government have to be convinced that the situation has indeed escalated enough to deserve worldwide attention. This happens to be the case in South Sudan. The fact that famine has been declared implies that people have already started dying of starvation.

The response has been on expected lines, with relief agencies stepping up their involvement. WFP (the World Food Programme) has been airdropping supplies in affected areas, the Food and Agriculture Organization is giving survival kits and Unicef has set up hundreds of feeding centres to cater to kids facing malnutrition using ready to use therapeutic foods such as peanut-based wonder snack Plumpy’nut.

President Kiir has promised unimpeded access to humanitarian efforts to ensure that supplies reach the ones in need. Yet, the humanitarian agencies are nowhere close to reaching their target of $1.6 billion to provide lifesaving assistance to an identified population of 5.8 million. The conflict itself shows no sign of abating, with Riek Machar, currently exiled from South Sudan, continuing to direct opposition forces remotely from South Africa.

Amartya Sen in his seminal work Development as Freedom made a powerful argument that functioning democracies do not see famines due to the pressures of electorate faced by democratic governments.

The idea went on to change the prism through which famines were viewed. An example in India illustrates the contours of this argument. Bihar faced a situation of food shortage in 1966. Monsoon failure led to harvest season yields being only 50% of what was estimated.

In response, the government declared a state of famine. Keeping in mind the general elections scheduled for the next year, the government and the state machinery mounted an impressive response.

Large-scale feeding, income-assistance programmes and work-for-food initiatives were undertaken. At the end of it, a major catastrophe was averted and the number of recorded deaths stood at about 2,300, a remarkable achievement for a poor and relatively nascent state.

In 1974, political upheavals faced by the Awami League in Bangladesh, following the initial years of independence, led the economy into a decline and caused a sharp spike in in prices of basics. Flooding in the same year led to massive food shortages, and eventually, famine was declared.

Multiple coup attempts were made and, by 1975, Bangladesh was under a martial law. Limited state capacity, low levels of accountability, and political instability led to an insufficient response which resulted in a loss of about 40,000 lives from starvation and famine-related diseases.

State capacity and functioning political system in a way, proved to be the ultimate differentiator. As conflict continues unabated in South Sudan, its leaders have the choice of the path they want to lead their country towards. One hopes that the right choice is made soon. Millions of lives hang in the balance.