The Return of Famine

Friday, May 4, 2018
9:00am – 5:30pm
Asean Auditorium
The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
160 Packard Avenue
Medford, MA 02155

Between 2000 and 2011 there were no famines, and deaths in humanitarian emergencies had been much reduced. Yet today famine has returned to the world stage. In 2017, the United Nations identified four situations of acute food insecurity that threatened famine or breached that threshold—in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Drawing on Tufts University’s distinguished record of scholarship and public engagement on the subject of famine, this conference will bring together faculty and researchers from across the University, in conversation with outside experts. Panels will address why famine has returned, today’s humanitarian challenges, legal and political issues related to criminalizing famine, and the most pressing famine of today, Yemen.

Panel One: Why has Famine Returned?

Chair: Diana Chigas
Panelists: Dan Maxwell, Bill Moomaw, and Luka Kuol 

Panelists will address the multi-causal nature of famine, including looking at climatic, food production, economic and political causes of famine, and how these contributed both to the spectacular decline in famines and to new and emergent famine risks.

Dan Maxwell discusses areas of famine watch in 2018, and what factors–notably armed conflict–are driving recent increases in global threats of famine.

Bill Moomaw’s presentation takes the long view: drawing on his expertise as an analyst of global climate change, Moomaw points to longer-term trends impacting food and water security.

Luka Kuol concentrates on the Horn of Africa, and points to the role of complex political crises in fomenting conditions that produce famine.

Panel Two: Challenges of Humanitarian Action

Chair: Dan Maxwell
Panelists: Erin Boyd, Patrick Webb, and Jennifer Leaning

Panelists will address the way in which humanitarian action has become more extensive, ambitious, complex and professional than ever before, with a wider than ever number of actors. They will examine the nutritional, public health, logistical, informational, coordination and security challenges of mounting humanitarian responses.

Erin Boyd focuses on severe acute malnutrition.

Patrick Webb argues that there have been major successes in responding to crises, a factor that significantly reduced death and the number of famines over time.

Jennifer Leaning addresses questions of humanitarian access, legal principles that apply, remote access and the case of Syria.

Panel Three: The Politics and Law of Starvation

Chair: Bridget Conley
Panelists: Alex de Waal, Rhoda E. Howard–Hassmann and Tom Dannenbaum

Bridget Conley introduces the panelists.

Panelists will address the question of starvation as a war crime or crime against humanity, and as a political failure, and the measures that could be undertaken to enhance political will to prevent famine and legal and political actions to ensure accountability for starvation crimes.

Alex de Waal argues that famine needs to placed within a collective understanding of mass atrocity–as a crime.

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann analyses what she calls ‘food crimes’ in non-conflict cases focusing on Venezuela.

Tom Dannenbaum focuses on international criminal law to draw attention to what legal mechanisms currently exist that might apply to famine

Panel Four: The Crisis in Yemen

Chair: Greg Gottlieb
Panelists: Monica Toft, Martha Mundy, and Dyan Mazurana

Greg Gottlieb introduces the panel.

The humanitarian crisis is the biggest disaster of food crisis, health crisis and the massive destruction of livelihoods of our time. It is largely a man-made disaster, perpetrated on a civilian population as a byproduct of the conduct of war—a war in close western allies have a leading role. Panelists will discuss the Yemen crisis and what should be the international response.

Monica Toft addresses geopolitical context in which the war in Yemen–and the resulting famine–is occurring.

Martha Mundy provides an overview of the assault by coalition forces against Yemen already limited food production capacity.

Dyan Mazurana draws from the record in other conflicts zones to point out the long-term impacts of sustained violence


Alex de Waal, Executive Director, World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

Bill Moomaw, Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

Bridget Conley, Research Director, World Peace Foundation at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

Dan Maxwell, Henry J. Leir Professor in Food Security, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Feinstein International Center, Tufts University

Diana Chigas, Professor of the Practice of International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; Senior International Officer and Associate Provost, Tufts University

Dyan Mazurana, Research Director, Gender, Youth, and Community, Feinstein; Associate Research Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy; Director, Masters of Arts in Humanitarian Assistance (MAHA) program; Senior Fellow, World Peace Foundation

Erin Boyd, Adjunct Instructor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University

Greg Gottlieb, Director, Feinstein International Center, Irwin H. Rosenberg Professor in Nutrition and Human Security, Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University

Jennifer Leaning, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Director, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University

Luka Kuol, Professor of Practice for Security Studies, Africa Center for Strategic Studies

Martha Mundy, Professor Emeritus Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science

Monica Toft, Professor of International Politics, Director of the Center for Strategic Studies, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

Patrick Webb, Alexander McFarlane Professor of Nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University

Rhoda E. Howard – Hassmann, Professor, School of International Policy and Governance, and Department of Political Science; Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights, Wilfred Laurier University

Tom Dannenbaum, Assistant Professor of International Law, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

Sponsored by the World Peace Foundation, Feinstein International Center, and Tufts University.