The Secret Nation: How an Economic Boom Occurred Amidst Plague and Famine

The Secret Nation: How an Economic Boom Occurred Amidst Plague and Famine

Paul Fischer


Professor Katlyn Morris

Assistant Professor Jeremy Romanul


The Secret Nation: How an Economic Boom Occurred Amidst Plague and Famine

The nation of Somalia lost over 250,000 people in 2011 to starvation (McVeigh). In the last couple of years the rate of death has increased and the median age stands at 17 years old, a phenomenon not seen in Vermont since the 1820s. In Vermont parents moved West in search of riches; Somalia has lost the older generation to the altogether more sinister specter of death. Historical precedent and medical background of the epidemiology of oppression and deprivation must be explored to establish a successful route out of what has been described by some as a nightmare on the wrong plane.

Cholera: Neglect and Willful Exacerbation

Cholera, once contracted is deadly and inefficient or ill informed methods of treating the disease can be less effective than inaction, as was seen in a Russian outbreak during which doctors saw 1097 of 1968 patients pass away. In one report of this incident, common in European countries throughout early urbanization, it is stated that, “It will be seen that in private treatment the deaths under the Allopatric or ordinary method were 39 per cent, and under the Homeopathic little more than 9 per cent; and that in hospitals it was 56 per cent” (Wilkinson, 6). In addition to inadequate measures to fight the epidemiology of the disease, failure to diagnose it meant that the sick were frequently not brought in until they were “violently” diseased and heavily dosed with medications.

Many of the epidemiological and technical difficulties faced by such early, both rural and urban outbreaks of the disease are also present in African countries such as Somalia. Cholera is a fast acting disease and just one of several diseases that have broken out in the region in recent years. The primary means of infection are through drinking water, though once hosted, the disease can be very contagious and can spread through any droplets so the contagion can easily spread to many regions if not effectively controlled, making obstruction or inefficacy of aid efforts all the more infuriating and dangerous. The fear experienced by a young girl who awakes in a town affected by a deadly form of cholera is explicit in The Secret Garden, a novel written during the height of colonial choleric outbreaks, reading, “the cholera had broken out in its most fatal form and people were dying like flies … others had run away in terror. There was panic on every side, and dying people in the bungalows” (Burnett, 4).

Diarrhea is followed by dizziness, pain, dehydration, and ultimately mortality. Modern treatment is effective, and clean water can make a world of difference to assist in recovery. In regions affected by the worst poverty a combination of lack of resources and political structures conducive to quagmire such as Al-Shabaab, a militant group with a history of refusing access to international aid organizations, has impeded mitigation or improvement attempts (McVeigh).

Prominent among these are lack of effective treatment techniques and training as well as policies or political struggle that sets the efforts of international organizations to assist back. Such efforts are also exacerbated by lack of access to basic commodities including nutrition in a nation that has suffered an increase in the Consumer Price Index of 20% since already inflated prices following a costly civil war (FEWSNET). The causes of this situation despite falling oil prices must be further explored.

Starvation and Co-ordination with other Avoidable Harms

With drought comes food deprivation and attempts to make what little supplies are available last, including through the adulteration of clean water with potables or other contaminants. In this way, lack of access to clean water or adequate foodstuffs can initiate other public health crises including biological incidents (McVeigh).  In addition to direct mortalities, nearly 10 percent of the population of Somalia has been displaced.

Central to price fluctuations that have been demonstrated in the region has been civil conflict and sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia. Regions inclusive of parts of Somalia such as Somaliland have seen a resurgence of economic growth, but the general region including Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia represent millions more in or near starvation and mean that neighboring assistance is not likely. Wage depression means that price fluctuations are felt more acutely now than before in combination with the forces of inflation (FEWSNET).

Direct assistance of the sort provided in the film by the Love Army is not effective, by admission of the interventionists themselves. Even though a tonne of rice only costs a fraction of the millions of dollars raised, protecting any resources costs significantly more. In the capital city of Mogadishu robberies, car bombings, and shootings are but a few of the violent encounters that have become everyday affairs.

Addressing the Issues: Root Solutions

Multiple interventions have been tried in Africa, and in Somalia international intervention dates back to the days of dictatorship. The Structural Adjustments Programs during the 1980s were interventions that appeared effective in nature, but ended up bolstering established businesses while hitting small farmers near the point of starvation the hardest (Muangi). By privatizing veterinary services, the services became out of the price range of others.

Sometimes technology can be the best tool to distribute, and the one most difficult for local intimidation factors to rob and sell back for more instruments of war. Distributed technology rights and patents also circumvent issues of distribution, of the sort that now ensures ⅓ of sub saharan children are malnourished. One example of a way this can make money appear out of seemingly overcapacity farmland is by treating animals for disease appropriately and breeding them with maximum efficiency.

To put this example in play, one can take a Boran livestock, that many Africans today breed for the purpose of using the strongest and most prolific or highest-yield livestock. A strong body is customarily associated with hardiness. In reality, however, this is not the case for the cattle, and many die as a result of infection. By breeding using modern technology to avoid early termination of such infected cattle, higher yields can be produced using smaller amounts of land. Even with the spread of this technology and others, however, there is still much work to be done and while livestock provides food and sustenance for 60% of Somalia’s population, the increase in cattle production has not satisfied the hunger demands in the country or region such that the average worker can only afford 7-12 kg of foodstuffs per day’s labor, a 10% decrease from the amounts during mass starvation (FEWSNET).

The secret nation is the unrecognized state of Somaliland. Many reforms there have been successful, most notably removing violence from the political process. By enforcing free and open elections, despite the effect of “wahhadists”, the state has given a template for success that has not been appropriately investigated. Without approval from neighboring states, the functional region does conduct independent trading with large nations such as Saudi Arabia. There are also public services that are not available in Somalia that have contributed to a relative sense of success in the area.


Burnett, F. H. (2002). The secret garden. Macmillan.

FEWSNET (March and April, 2017). Somalia Livestock Price Bulletin. Famine Early Warning System Network.

McVeigh, Karen (3 February, 2017). Somalia Famine Fears Prompt U.N. Call for ‘Immediate and Massive’ Reaction. The Guardian.

Muangi, Thumbi (26 April, 2017). Better livestock policies pathway out of poverty. The Herald.

Wilkinson, James John Garth (1855). War, Cholera, and the Ministry of Health: An Appeal to Sir Benjamin Hall and the British People. Clapp.

Bill McKibben: American Environmental Policies and Saying No to Big Oil Today and in 2014

Bill McKibben: American Environmental Policies and Saying No to Big Oil Today and in 2014

Paul Fischer


Bill McKibben: American Environmental Policies and

Saying No to Big Oil Today and in 2014

Bill McKibben is a regular contributor to many publications including the New York Times. His work has been steadfast and consistent in protecting the environment from corporate and at times even government institutions which threaten ourselves and the world we are surrounded by. Looking at an interview from 2014 with Bill Moyers brings to light some particularly important issues which are in the national headlines today, such as the Keystone pipeline and the impact of Big Oil in politics today. McKibben’s own activism goes beyond steady writing and academic work, however, but is instead rooted in political work which has even been criminal in nature. Shortly before the interview, he had been arrested after chaining himself to the White House in an environmental protest, an action which created national headlines and drew attention to the work of environmental activists.

The two met on a canoe trip, which holds significance one of the potentially greatest threats to the environment from the new pipeline are the vital waterways which sustain our nation culturally and have historically provided the backbone of economic systems in the nation. A potential target in this area has certain risks in times of peace; in the event of a war on the home-front, the cost of providing security for such a monument could prove, well, monumental. Then the potential catastrophes which are warned against would be a certainty.

More importantly, it could destroy the nation’s ability to protect itself without self-inflicting permanent and persistent damage on America’s greatest resources, economically and environmentally. An example of a similar situation in another wartime which threatened to reach American shores was in the Manhattan project carried out by American scientists. While Albert Einstein was able to organize a widely diverse collection of ethnically and even linguistically separate experts and professionals into completing the nuclear race in time to save Allied military efforts, original plans included disposing of the waste into major American waterways in the mid and northwest.

Fortunately this plan was squashed by the once powerful fishing interests in these waterways out of fears it might impact in the long run their productive output. Given modern information about the nature of radioactive materials, it is likely that such disposal could have not only exposed tens of millions of Americans to lethal amounts of radiation, but also destroyed the agricultural output of the entirety of what was once called the Louisiana Purchase. This is an example of the precautionary principle successful by accident only; it was not until recently that the full effect of radioactive exposure has been determined and revealed on plant and animal lifeforms. Unfortunately, inappropriate weapons testing and disposal techniques contributed or caused extensive damage to American ecosystems and health concerns following that effort, and the arms race with the Soviet Union exacerbated those harms.

Following this with debate on the pipeline is critical. Not only must a dangerous proposal be defeated, but it must also be defeated for the right reasons and by the correct interests. Understanding the full potential effects of such construction, as well as that of an economic depression or recession such as that which recently occurred, on security costs and the viability of maintenance of the undertaking is necessary in order to not only prevent the great disaster, but also smaller ones to follow. In the interview, this is the crux of the argument delivered by Bill McKibbens.

Rather than focusing on the short-term effects of the construction and damage that may be done by bad maintenance or in the event of economic disaster, his focus in the interview is on what happens when things proceed properly. The global warming effects of the carbon released from 800 thousand barrels of oil a day, or nearly a quarter billion barrels a year, could change the emissions released by the United States by a factor of ten percent. As the USA begins negotiations next month in Paris in which there is an effort to show commitment to environmental protection and energy independence through renewable sources, there will be an effort to quantify the effect of American pollutants on other countries, as well as the global warming disasters which greenhouse gases will predicate if not properly understood and regulated.

This is not an individual who survived the dust-bowl sands of the 1930’s, in which American prospects simply dried up and cornfields turned to storms and death, but it is clear that he has a specific understanding of the seriousness of failure to control economic development and of global industrial development on the environment and productivity. What then cost billions and breadlines in America (along with some interdependent nations), today would mean global starvation and the destruction of American international hegemony in a way that not only could no nation possibly step in to fill the gap, but in fact warfare on a scale unprecedented, this time likely nuclear, could be initiated. While Bill Moyers estimates the costs of action at twenty trillion dollars (no time frame was given), he fails to point out what President Obama and Bill McKibben instinctively emphasize: this is the mutually assured destruction of our time. That is, America was faced with the same question in the past, and invested tens of trillions of dollars in deterrent nuclear weapons and understanding the consequences and actions both of doing so and in not doing so. The investment initiated and prolonged the Cold War, in the long run critical information on the nature of carcinogens in huge numbers of products was discovered and mandatory age limits or recommendations have been set on products from cigarettes and cosmetics to carpets and landfills which otherwise could have contributed to trillions in excessive health care costs.

In that time period, the consequence was falling victim to a foreign nuclear strike and decades of cancer mortality and cultural slavery under the satellite system of a foreign superpower. Now we face our own generational questions with the same rewards and losses. Failure to act will not only spell disaster for American agricultural and infrastructural investments, but unlike the dust-bowl of the 1930’s, will induce far more severe consequences for nations we are obligated to help. That means immediate repayment of our own debt in some nations, and loss of direct foreign investment which adds up to a cool trillion dollars every few years. This is a simple equation: failure to invest (or rather simply not exploit currently) these 20 trillion dollars now can cost American businesses, corporations, and taxpayers the opportunity to invest over 200 billion dollars in lucrative investments internationally every year and require some fraction of the nearly 20 trillion dollars in US debt currently held by other nations to be paid or to face severe global catastrophes. This can mean billions, such as Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, or here in Vermont, Irene, or trillions in the event of the worst-case scenarios presenting themselves.


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