One of the underlying questions facing humanitarianism has always been that of how to avoid having ‘disasters’, of all kinds, develop into famines. According to de Waal (1997), the central features of successful famine prevention are the integrity of the civil service and the existence of a strong, visionary government. These are said to be the pillars of a political and social contract between vulnerable populations and the state. If one accepts this hypothesis, the question which would seem to follow is how we  might ‘get from here to there’ in supporting integrity and vision for reducing vulnerability in famine prone countries. The examples given by de Waal of successful famine prevention (India, Botswana, the liberation movements in Eritrea and Tigray) are of regimes that have founded their legitimacy on providing guarantees of famine prevention. Unfortunately, these examples give few clues as to how countries may nourish or recreate public service integrity and a political contract where the state lacks a history of accountability to its citizens, as is the case in most famine prone countries today. What is to be done where these pillars have either already crumbled or may have never been firmly established?