A Role for Social Nutrition in Strengthening Accountability for Mass Starvation?

In the second decade of the 2000s, the need to revive or re-invent some form of social nutrition is important because of the resurgence of severe famines (or situations of mass starvation) and the large
numbers of people suffering protracted crises with persistently high levels of acute malnutrition. Its importance is increasingly advocated by social and human rights movements, by food policy analysts and by a small number of nutritionists working in situations of conflict-related humanitarian crises or famines.

This paper aims to stimulate discussion of the role of social or politically-oriented approaches to nutrition in situations of famine and crisis. More specifically, it examines whether there is a role for social nutrition in strengthening accountability for mass starvation. According to Alex de Waal and Bridget Conley (2019), ‘starvation crimes’ comprise a range of actions prohibited under different international legal regimes that deprive populations of items indispensible to their survival – and are the result of deliberate political or military acts. Wider political and economic decisions may also lead to famine. To ensure political accountability for these crimes, evidence is required about the nature of the crime and the way in which it is perpetrated. Prosecution requires showing intent, action and outcome. Criminal acts include specific actions such as policy decisions or military strikes, and assessment of the effect on access to food or other items indispensible to survival. In most situations, mass starvation will come about through a series of policies and actions, structural causes, and the interactions between them. It is in analysing how this multicausality leads to elevated levels of acute malnutrition, that social nutrition may have a role to play.

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