Posts by: Alex DeWaal

This is a dataset of historic famines and episodes of mass intentional starvation.

It is a working dataset, to be updated as more and better sources become available.

It includes two kinds of overlapping events, which have hitherto largely been studied separately. One set of events is great and catastrophic famines. A famine is […]

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Dr. Omar was conducting an exploratory laparotomy on a female patient with a bullet wound in her abdomen when the entire hospital shook with the sound of explosions. Windows were shattering and a light and plaster fell from the ceiling. A nurse ran in to say that a missile had been fired through the wall […]

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It’s no coincidence that South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir cracked down hard on dissent at precisely the same moment that he reluctantly signed the ‘Compromise Peace Agreement’ that should, ostensibly, bring an end to the last twenty months of fighting with the SPLA-in Opposition forces. This also reveals why the tools of targeted financial sanctions, […]

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Naypyitaw, the new capital of Myanmar, is built on a monumental scale. Nowhere is this truer than in the buildings of the legislature.

The hall of the House of Nationalities—one of the two chambers of the parliament—is grandiose. It is entirely public space: halls, corridors, meeting rooms, banqueting rooms, staircases. There are few […]

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The annihilation of the Japanese city of Hiroshima seventy years ago, followed by the destruction of Nagasaki three days later, still represent the most terrifying event of modern times. Nuclear weapons are the only armaments with the capacity to destroy life on earth.

There is no single cogent argument, ethical or political-practical, for any nation […]

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Economic and financial sanctions rarely work: their best record is when they are short-term, have specific asks, and are targeted at friendly countries. Long-term, broad sanctions punishing hostile countries tend to compound the harm. Depriving a government of any legal way of getting the finance it needs to function, means it works criminal networks instead. Sudan is a case in point: a raft of U.S. financial and economic sanctions has contributed to the dominance of an entrenched security-commercial cartel at the top of government, whose members are personally enriched by this system. When a state is captured by such a network, regime change becomes extraordinarily difficult. There’s no way out of this trap without normalizing state finance—and that means transforming the sanctions regime.

The final and most fundamental point is that we cannot escape this problem with the same tools and the same frameworks that got us collectively into it in the first place.

This agenda for change is neither charity nor coercive intervention, because the problem is ours as well. In Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and South Sudan, international interventions have made a bad situation worse. We share the same international financial and security systems: we all suffer the consequences, and all need to fix them. In western, developed countries, we experience the concentration of wealth into a tiny fraction of extremely rich people, alongside policies that have cut into the middle class, and limited the future of the next generation. We have a closed security establishment that considers itself above the rules that govern society as a whole, and permitted to crooks in the name of protecting the public. Their worldview subordinates public interest to greed and fear, and their prescriptions for global problems don’t challenge this formula.

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