Management of Famine Relief

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Science  09 May 1975:
Vol. 188, Issue 4188, pp. 571-577
DOI: 10.1126/science.188.4188.571


We have, over the course of time, made discoveries in compassion as well as discoveries in technology. Many problems that had been judged insoluble in the past are no longer tolerable. For many centuries, starvation was inevitable, largely because means of information and means of transportation were not at hand; the fact that there usually was more food available somewhere else on the same or another continent was irrelevant. There was no way of hearing of the famine, bringing the food where it was needed, or distributing it. We now have the knowledge to install early warning systems based on economic and on medical surveillance (8). Such data as weather reports, crop forecasts, food reserves and retail prices, height-to-weight ratios, skin fold thicknesses, and height-to-arm circumference ratios in children can warn us in advance of impending famine. We also now have the means to transport the food to the area of threatening or actual mass starvation. Therefore, we have obligations that did not exist in past generations. We are now also in a much smaller world from which some of our contemporaries have stepped out to look at the spaceship on which we are all traveling. The worldwide civil rights revolution of the 1960's has brought about greater realization that all human beings are born equal and must be preserved and helped. All this means not only that we must organize to prevent famines on a worldwide basis, but also that we must use the most modern technology to do so. The fact that famine often occurs in remote areas is no reason why we cannot use computers and other modern technology. The very need for programming computers, with the planned coding and feeding of data that it entails, not only forces preparedness but also obliges planners to examine responses to various contingencies. National and international training courses for policy-makers and managers of famine relief should follow.

Even if mankind brings its resources and its population into balance, a sound organization of famine relief preparation will still be needed to cope with local contingencies. Rapid agricultural advancement, development of innovative food sources, and, above all, control of population growth are necessary if famine is not to stalk all of mankind in the future.