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Floods and flood control •


Survivors of a deadly flood in Ecuador struggle to salvage their belongings in knee-deep waters. (Xinhua/Landov)

Floods and flood control
Categories: Environment, conservation, and resource management; geological processes and formations Floods can have both devastating and positive effects on natural resources and human infrastructure. Background Floods happen with any high flow of surface waters that overtop normal confining banks and cover land that is usually dry. Floods occur naturally along most river systems. Low-lying areas and areas downstream of dams are most at risk. Flooding causes loss of human and animal life; structural damage to bridges, buildings, roadbeds, and utilities; soil erosion; destruction of property; and destruction of livestock and crops that provide food for people. As a result, famines may follow floods, with large numbers of people dying from starvation. Floodwaters are typically contaminated with raw sewage, including both hu-

man and animal waste, and may contain dangerous levels of bacteria, leading to outbreaks of waterborne illness. Floods also can have positive impacts. Floods recharge natural ecosystems; provide abundant fresh water for agriculture, health, and sanitation; and deposit nutrient-rich sediment on floodplains, enhancing crop yields. The importance of floods to aquatic ecosystems is demonstrated by the artificial flooding in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in the United States. However, floods are the most devastating of all geological agents, surpassing earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in terms of loss of life and property damage. In developing countries, floods cause a large number of deaths, whereas in developed countries, floods cause billions of dollars worth of property damage. Each year there are between fifty and three hundred inland floods worldwide, impacting an estimated 520 million people and causing as many as 25,000 deaths. Since 1985, inland floods have killed approximately 130,000 people (not including loss of life from storm

1976. some evaporates or is used by plants. Rising water levels lift river ice. after an unusually heavy rainstorm. Globally. the potential for flooding rises because of land-use changes (such as deforestation and the covering of once-permeable ground with concrete. Floods and other water-related disasters cost the world economy as much as $50 to $60 billion per year. Climate change and sea-level rise also lead to increased flooding. As rushing water leaves the channel. spring thaws bring ice jams and associated flooding. a sudden flood of water is released.3 earthquake off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra produced a tsunami in the Indian Ocean that flooded coastal areas across Southeast Asia. Flash floods occur with little or no warning and can reach peak levels within minutes. Flash floods may even occur in dry streambeds on sunny days when small but heavy rainstorms occur upstream kilometers away. along the Big Thompson River near Denver. and other countries. Riverine floods occur when heavy rainfall or spring thaws (melting snow and ice) increase water levels in a drainage basin. including Australia and several African countries. moundlike deposits of sediment that border the stream channel. which breaks into large sheets that float downstream and pile up near narrow passages or against obstructions such as bridges. In May. Many of these people are among the world’s poorest inhabitants. live in areas prone to flooding. Europe. Fifteen centimeters of swiftly moving water can sweep people off their feet. Colorado. India. which impacted nine states along the . Coastal flooding can also occur as a result of a tsunami or seismic sea wave following an earthquake. and other nations bordering the Indian Ocean. Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar (Burma) with storm surge. as in the case of the Great Midwest Flood of 1993 in the central United States. The death toll was estimated to be more than 100. its velocity drops. Types of Floods Floods occur when a drainage basin (or watershed) receives so much water that stream and river channels cannot handle the flow. a magnitude 9.442 • Floods and flood control Global Resources Mississippi River and lasted more than four months. claiming an average of 5. and other debris. flooding up to 4 meters in the densely populated Irrawaddy Delta region. leading to a tidal surge. Heavy rainfall may be the result of a hurricane. a monsoonal rain. Kazakhstan. Floodplains Most streams are naturally bordered by flat. the northern United States. Russia. carrying a deadly cargo of rocks. and cars can be swept away by 0. which was up to 25 meters high. where more than 1. and clay deposited by floodwaters. When the ice jam breaks. killed nearly surge and tsunami-related floods). the impact of downstream flooding is lessened. A notable flash flood occurred July 31. asphalt. floodwaters rapidly spread over the riverbanks upstream from the jam and may cover vast areas of usually dry land. As urbanization increases. China. about one-sixth of the world’s population. silt.6 meter of water. a tropical cyclone. Natural levees form as floodwaters leave the channel and spread onto the floodplain. and coarser sediment is deposited adjacent to the stream. depending on fertile floodplain soils and wetlands for agriculture and economic opportunity. 2008. When the ice stops moving because of a jam. Sometimes during hurricanes coastal areas are affected simultaneously by storm surges and riverine floods. Storm surge floods (coastal floods) occur when onshore winds and hurricanes cause the sea level to rise over low-lying coastal areas. low-lying areas known as floodplains.200 floods occurred between 1900 and 2006. flowing across the ground surface. In cold climate areas where rivers freeze in the winter. A wall of water 5. and buildings).000. Man-made levees may be built along streams in an attempt to control flooding. flooding roads and causing property damage. the devastation can be catastrophic. if the water in a stream is allowed to spread over its natural floodplain. Some streams have natural levees. The flood killed 140 people and caused millions of dollars in property damage. trees. However. some water infiltrates the soil.300 lives and costing up to $207 billion in losses. On December 26. If storm surges happen during high tide. Nearly 1 billion people. Flash floods are associated with intense storms that release large amounts of rain into small drainage basins in a relatively short period of time. Floodplains have been carved into the landscape by stream erosion and are covered in fine-grained sand. the greatest potential for flooding exists in Asia. 2004.8 meters high roared down a canyon where people were camping. or a prolonged period of unusually wet weather. Sri Lanka. and the remainder (about 30 percent) becomes runoff. After a rain. The tsunami. particularly in flood-prone areas. Ice jam flooding occurs in Canada.

have been floods along Chinese rivers.000 square kilometers. In 1887. Other more recent floods on the Chang occurred in 1954. producing fertile land for agriculture. Runoff also increases when forests are cleared or when wetlands are destroyed by construction or infilling. which struck the southeastern United States in August. as a consequence. To prevent flooding and to keep the river within its banks. which was about 600 meters deep with a volume of about 2. 1889. The levees broke catastrophically. The most obvious example is the bursting of dams or levees. where the man-made levees and floodwalls along the Mississippi River failed in more than fifty places. the Chang (also known as the Yangtze).000. has also flooded numerous times. with levees towering 9 meters or more above the floodplain. Pennsylvania. Hurricane Katrina. The river’s English name derives from the ochre-yellow color of the silt carried by the river. and several islands were completely submerged. The longest river in China. Notable Floods Near the end of the last ice age. the river crested at nearly 31 meters above its normal level and killed 145. The flooding claimed between 900.000 and 6 Floods and flood control • 443 million lives (estimates vary widely. Federal disaster declarations covered an area of 233. The worst natural disasters in history. poor design. caused flooding along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Texas. Billions of dollars worth of property damage occurred. the Three Gorges Dam was completed in 2006. A wall of water 12 meters high killed 2. The Huang River (also known as the Yellow River) in China has killed more people than any other natural feature. 2005. it has flooded 1. and wildlife habitats are destroyed.2 meters) as the hurricane approached the Mississippi coast. Over the past three to four thousand years. heavy rains over a period of months caused the river level to rise. flooding 80 percent of the city. eroded from upstream. and. As the sediment accumulated in the river channel.S. Dam failures represent potentially the worst flooding event in terms of sudden. and in 1998. In places. history was the result of a dam failure on the Little Conemaugh River in Johnstown. Paving and building on floodplains and surrounding areas decrease infiltration of rainwater into the soil and. for exam- . in terms of loss of life.500 cubic kilometers. A flood on the same river in 1931 killed nearly 4 million people.000 people and left more than 1.200 people. the water in the lake. Floods can also be caused by human interference with a drainage basin. Floodwaters covered the area for weeks.000 lives. with damage estimates near $100 billion.000. Agriculture decreases the ability of soil to retain water and therefore increases runoff. increase runoff. However.500 square kilometers. Sediment-clogged streams cannot support normal levels of aquatic life. or structural damage caused by an earthquake or other event. Rapid runoff causes soil erosion. Millions of metric tons of silt deposited on the riverbed choke the channel and displace the water. Dam failures are primarily caused by neglect. on May 31. In 1911. Effects of Flooding People are attracted to floodplains because floods deposit nutrient-rich topsoil. the larger figure includes deaths from flood-induced famine). In Egypt.700.S.S. as well as to generate electricity. In an effort to control flooding along the Chang. over time. the riverbed is higher than the surrounding countryside. Much of the damage was caused by the highest storm surge in U. spilling floodwaters 3 meters deep over the surrounding countryside and covering an estimated 129. When the ice jam broke up. flowing westward and both creating the Channeled Scablands and eroding immense channels across the Columbia Plateau. In 1931.593 times. the most severe damage was in New Orleans. Sediment deposition in stream channels also leaves little room for water and leads to the likelihood of flooding. the river level rises. the levees had to be built higher and higher. history (8. the Chinese built levees or earthen embankments along the sides of the river. catastrophic loss of life and destruction of property. Human Influences on Flooding Human activities along waterways can increase flooding inadvertently.836 people were killed and 705 were missing. killing 30.5 million homeless. Louisiana. This was the costliest natural disaster in U. about thirteen thousand years ago. was released catastrophically. a flood on the Chang River claimed 100. The deadliest flood in U. glacial-related ice jam flooding in the northwestern United States formed prehistoric Lake Missoula along the Clark Fork River in Montana. but as many as 3. history.Global Resources 300.000 died as a result of starvation because the flooded area normally produced nearly one-half of China’s grain. and at least 1.

Floodplains tend to be flat. making them easy to irrigate. Dangers of flooding include losses of both human and animal lives. Additional long-term problems include homelessness and losses to commerce. Flood Control Floods can be controlled in two ways: by controlling the waters or by controlling floodplain development. and property destruction. floods and deposition of nutrient-rich sediment from the Nile River have increased agricultural yields for perhaps five thousand years. Disease spread by waterborne pathogens and insects such as mosquitoes. Virginia. As more communities build levees. engineers build dams. Flooding is beneficial to streams as well: It serves to maintain both local and regional environmental balance. can cause great loss of life. Most flood deaths are attributable to drowning. When water filtration facilities are inundated. Dams can store water during periods of heavy runoff and release it gradually during periods of low flow. affecting water quality and aquatic life. Wild animals. refusing to consider the risk. To minimize the effects of flooding. how- . and in the United States. in addition to famine due to crop damage and loss of food supplies. buildings. and near water. and floodwalls along rivers. often come into homes with rising floodwater. severe soil erosion (sometimes even unearthing coffins in cemeteries and washing them downstream). floods spread waters polluted by industrial contaminants and human waste. levees. roadbeds. the nearby source of water is useful for transportation of agricultural products. and utilities. more than one-half of them are associated with motor vehicles being driven into areas covered by water. structural damage to bridges.444 • Floods and flood control Global Resources Father and son paddle through flooded streets after heavy rains in Poquoson. dams. (AP/Wide World Photos) ple. In addition. and education. employment. including poisonous snakes. Floods also recharge groundwater supplies. making them easy to cultivate. in 2009. Polluted floodwater can also contaminate wells and water supplies. Artificial levees and floodwalls are built along streams to confine floodwaters and to keep them from covering the floodplain. Floods can be considered human-caused disasters in that people build on floodplains. agricultural losses.

: ABC-CLIO.: Princeton University Press.” In The Silver Lining: The Benefits of Natural Disasters. Similarly. “Disturbance Ecology and Flood Control. suggesting that coastal flooding will become more widespread. Swelling Soils. and Walter B. 2002. A one-hundred-year flood can occur any time. Floods. O’Neill. Edward B. Where levees or floodwalls are built on only one side of a river.. 2001. and Other Geologic Cataclysms: Revealing the Earth’s Hazards. For every 1° Celsius in temperature rise. This will have a significant impact on coastal inhabitants. 2007. more intense flooding. Durham. Willard. as a consequence. Earthquakes. including a decrease in the number of ice-jam floods in Europe.: Duke University Press. Sea level is expected to rise 9-88 centimeters by the end of the twenty-first century. Landslides. and eroded farmland. It does not mean that a flood of this level would happen only once in one hundred years. constructing floodways to divert floodwaters.C. sea level rose 10-20 Floods and flood control • 445 centimeters. England: Sutton. N. Flood Control. more than 70 percent of the world’s population lives on coastal plains. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal. islands are affected by sea-level rise. a “ten-year flood” has a 10 percent chance of occurring in a given year. Princeton. Stroud. Tornadoes. Miller. including increased building on floodplains. Eruptions. Seth R. Natural Disasters—Floods: A Reference Handbook. and Mary B. Karen M. Levees are by no means a foolproof solution to flood prevention. the number of catastrophic inland floods was twice as large per decade between 1996 and 2005 as it was between 1950 and 1980. leading to more extremes in climate. W. Proctor. the difference between a ten-year and a one-hundred-year flood is only a few centimeters. Floods. Subsidence. A sea-level rise of 1 meter would have a devastating effect on some of the world’s poorest countries. Floodwaters occasionally overflow levees. 2d ed.J. and purposely flooding certain areas to prevent flooding in others. river levels rise because floodwaters cannot spread out. Langbein. and Ruby M. raising the riverbed and displacing the water. In early 2005. Including Asbestos. In some cases. William G. Artificial levees must be heightened because of rising water levels over time. 1993. is a prime example. Moser.: Princeton University Press. E. Property damage was five times as large. N. 2006. Woods. Flood Frequency Flood frequencies are described in statistical terms to estimate the chance of a particular flood level. widening rivers to accommodate more water. and Paul H. Extreme Weather: Understanding the Science of Hurricanes. the potential exists for the hydrologic cycle to intensify. Heat Waves. In recent years. the capacity of the atmosphere to hold water increases by 7 percent. displacing tens of millions of people and flooding low-lying areas used for growing rice and other food crops. Woods. Reice. and Other Atmospheric Disturbances. Floods. The river deposits its sediment in the channel instead of on the floodplain. contaminated wells with salt water. Increasingly.. . During the twentieth century. The Citizens’ Guide to Geologic Hazards: A Guide to Understanding Geologic Hazards. burst through them. Michael. Quakes. Other methods of flood control include restoring vegetation. Michael. H. 1955. Arvada. towns on the other side experience higher flood levels than normal. Robert. Mogil. Rivers by Design: State Power and the Origins of U. Floods. For example.J. Minneapolis: Lerner. Colo. Radon. Hoyt. The Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Princeton. and Coastal Hazards. the term “one-hundred-year flood” means that a flood of a particular level will have a 1 percent chance of occurring within a given year. Global Warming. Pamela J. New York: Facts On File. Miller. Jon. Calif. This creates the potential for more intense precipitation and. several other islands in Kiribati were flooded by high spring tides that damaged buildings. Erickson. Around the world. changes also have occurred in the timing of floods. which has already lost two islands to rising seas. The increase is primarily attributed to socioeconomic reasons such as population growth and changes in land use. 2006. instituting soil conservation measures. Snow Storms. or go around their upstream ends. Richard J. Floods and Global Warming With global climate change and predictions about increases in temperature.: American Institute of Professional Geologists. Volcanoes.Global Resources ever. Nuhfer. Extreme Floods: A History in a Changing Climate. Santa Barbara. 2000. 2009.S. Gore Further Reading Doe. N.

pdf United Nations Educational.shtm Public Broadcasting Service NOVA Online Flood! http://www. and aluminum. This acid is the primary ingredient used to produce almost all organic and inorganic fluorine-bearing chemicals. In the United States. Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) International Flood Initiative http://unesdoc.446 • Fluorite Global Resources lena. gaHydrofluoric acid 85% Source: Data from the U.S. Mongolia. It commonly is the most abundant mineral in the vein and can occur as the only mineral in some veins. New Mexico. and enamel. Government Printing Office. fluorite is found in China. Namibia. and Humanitarian Applications http://www. quartz. Fluorite is also found in cavities of sedimentary rocks. South Africa. Russia. Fluorite crystallizes in the isometric system and commonly forms perfect to nearperfect cubes. U.usgs.unesco.fema. and in water-rich igneous pegmatites. Wetlands. called fluorspar in the mining industry. 2009: Water in a Changing World http://www.unesco. pottery. Mineral Commodity United Nations 151208e. Educational. Hydrology and the hydrologic cycle. Kenya.pbs. Monsoons. Geological Survey. Fluorite is the chief ore for elemental fluorine gas and related fluorine chemicals. the most important sources are in Illinois. and apatite. has a formula of CaF2 and is the index mineral on the Mohs hardness scale at 4. pdf/24_WWDR3_ch_12. It is used in the chemical industry in the production of hydrofluoric acid (HF). Streams and 2009.php?term=398 See also: El Niño and La Niña. topaz. steel. sphalerite. . Mexico. Kentucky. Technical Definition The mineral fluorite. Fluorite is associated with many different minerals.S. Web Sites Dartmouth Flood Observatory Space-Based Measurement of Surface Water for Research. and Spain. It occurs in hydrothermal veins associated with the ore minerals of lead. and zinc. gypsum. Worldwide. silver. Geological Survey Floods http://www. and Colorado. Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Third United Nations World Water Development Federal Emergency Management Agency Flood http://www. dolomite. Fluorite is also used in manufacturing of glass.S.dartmouth. Morocco. Fluorite displays a glassy luster and a perfect cleavage that yields octahedral End Uses of Fluorspar Steel manufacture 15% Fluorite Category: Mineral and other nonliving resources Where Found Fluorite is a common mineral that is found worldwide. fiberglass.S.0. Primary Uses Fluorite is an excellent flux and is used extensively in the production of iron. 2009. U. in hot-water deposits near springs. Ohio.pdf U. including calcite.

Early American Indians carved artifacts from purple fluorite from southern Illinois. Distribution. researchers discovered that the presence of sufficient amounts of fluorine occurring naturally in drinking water could lead to a low level of tooth decay and dental cavities. Acid grade is 97 percent pure.” where an electron fills a “hole” from a missing ion. History The name fluorite comes from the Latin word fluere. its use spread throughout municipal water districts in the United States. Iron. Fluorite has a long history of use as an ornamental material. Uses of Fluorite Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were made from acidgrade fluorite by having the hydrofluoric acid react with chloroform or carbon tetrachloride. and solvents. ceramic grade is about 94 percent pure. A single slab or crystal can show distinct color banding. Dion C. bluish green. and Forms Fluorite has a structural defect in its atomic arrangement called a “color center. some debated whether fluoridation was truly effective or whether other factors (such as better nutrition and oral hygiene) might be responsible for the decrease in tooth decay seen beginning in late 1940’s. Geological Survey Minerals Information: Fluorspar Statistics and Information http://minerals. and production of these fluorine-based chemicals was banned by the Montreal Protocol in 1987. These fluorocarbons performed outstandingly as refrigerants.usgs. Fluoridation was controversial from the beginning. There are three principal market grades of flu- Food chain • 447 orite: acid. with its more radical opponents deeming it a communist plot against the United States. the diffusion of CFCs into the upper atmosphere is believed to be responsible for damage to the ozone layer. and less commonly colors of rose. or fluorides. Fluorite can also be colorless and perfectly transparent. is common and pronounced in fluorite to the point that fluorite is the namesake of this spectacular property. fluorite carvings are among the earliest Chinese works of art. Artificial fluoridation of drinking water and toothpaste is another widespread use of fluorine compounds. However. Food chain Categories: Ecological resources. The specifications are in regard to purity. blue. light green. Early fluoridation programs were instituted in Michigan and Wisconsin in 1945. The property of “fluorescence. A red-bluecolorless-dark purple sequentially banded variety of fluorite from Derbyshire. commonly with four or more different colors being present. scientists determined that in drinking water a sodium fluoride concentration of 1 part per million was high enough to cause a decrease in dental cavity formation but low enough not to cause the mottling of teeth that higher levels were known to cause. yellow. known as “Blue John. Montreal Protocol. Ozone layer and ozone hole debate. and metallurgical grade is between 60 and 90 percent pure. In the 1930’s. and calculating the maximum amount of life that can be supported on the Earth.” a luminescence caused by exposure to ultraviolet light. ceramic. the scientific community widely accepts that fluoridation does indeed reduce decay. Nonetheless. Mohs hardness scale. or brown. Steel. aerosol propellants. Obtaining Fluorite Mining of fluorite for industrial and chemical applications began in the eighteenth century in the United commodity/fluorspar/ See also: Aluminum. as tests seemed to validate fluoride’s effectiveness as an antidecay agent. Crystals. Stewart Web Site U. . In the past. which means “to flow. and metallurgical.” referring to its ancient use as a flux in smelting iron. The concept provides the basic framework for production biology and has major implications for agriculture.” was used by the Romans for cups and dishes. This defect causes fluorite to display a wide variety of colors. However. including deep purple.S. Ceramics. wildlife biology. England.Global Resources Description. In the early 1940’s. plant and animal resources The food chain concept allowed ecologists to interconnect the organisms living in an ecosystem and to trace mathematically the flow of energy from plants through animals to decomposers.

it became obvious that this inefficiency is the reason food chains are rarely more than five or six links long and why large. Because humans are omnivores able to feed at sev- Background As early as 1789. survives because the loss of this algae merely increases the pressure on the other food sources. which are dramatically reduced at each step in a food chain. Food chains therefore undergirded the new “production biology” that placed all organisms at various trophic levels and calculated the extent to which energy was lost or preserved as it passed up the food chain.” This phrase dates from the controversial 1960 work of Nelson G. and peregrine falcons. If unfavorable conditions eliminate this algae. grazing limits the plants. grazers are limited by predation. contended in 1887 that a lake comprises a system in which no organism or process can be understood unless its relationship to all the parts is understood. This detailed linkage of food chains advanced agriculture and wildlife management and gave scientists a solid overview of living systems. Smith. Ecol- . Frederick E. It also became evident that because the Earth intercepts a limited amount of sunlight energy per year. pelicans. and water cycling. Such explanations of the “balance of nature” were commonly taught in biology books throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. the insect might also disappear. They proposed that if only grazers and plants are present. Most people still think of food chains as the basis for the “balance of nature. Food Chains in Production Biology Elton’s explanation of food chains came only one year after Edgar Nelson Transeau of Ohio State University presented his calculations on the efficiency with which corn plants converted sunlight into plant tissue. Hairston. which feeds on a wider range of insects. However. algae in a lake might support an insect that in turn is food for bluegill. the bluegill. the pesticide dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) provided the most notorious example of biological magnification: DDT was found to be deposited in animal body fat in ever-increasing concentrations as it moved up the food chain to ospreys. For instance.” In 1939. and energy flow through ecosystems. and Lawrence B. However. Tansley penned the term “ecosystem” in 1939. there is a limit on the amount of plant life—and ultimately upon the amount of animal life and decomposers—that can be fed. Elton’s food chains provided an accurate way to diagram these relationships. fierce animals are uncommon. Food chains are also important in the accounting of carbon. and the plants are free to grow to the limits of the nutrients available. Value of Food Chains in Environmental Science Unlike calories. Slobodkin. When Arthur G. Elton described the implications of the food chain and food web concept in a clear manner. Because so much energy is lost at each stage in a food chain. founder of the Illinois Natural History Survey. some toxic substances become more concentrated as the molecules are passed along. The concentration of molecules along the food chain was first noticed by the Atomic Energy Commission. as measured by the heat released (calories) when food is burned. High levels of DDT in these birds broke down steroid hormones and interfered with eggshell formation. However. the use of the term “food chain” dates from 1927. and animals being eaten by other animals. Elton extended food chains into a pyramid of numbers. when Charles S. it was food-chain relationships that described much of the equilibrium of the ecosystem. Forty years later. with predators present. naturalists such as Gilbert White described the many sequences of animals eating plants. With data accumulating from many ecologists.448 • Food chain Global Resources ogists traced this flow of stored chemical energy up the food chain to herbivores that ate plants and on to carnivores that ate herbivores. Early pyramids were based on the amount of living tissues or biomass. Since most organisms feed on several food items. August Thienemann added “decomposers” to reduce unconsumed tissues and return the nutrients of all levels back to the plants. nitrogen. provided even more accurate budgets. His solid exposition advanced the study of two important biological concepts: the complex organization and interrelatedness of nature. However. Food Chains in Ecosystem Description Stephen Alfred Forbes. which found that radioactive iodine and strontium released in the Columbia River was concentrated in tissue of birds and fish. food chains were cross-linked into complex webs with predictive power. The food pyramid in which much plant tissue supports some herbivores that are in turn eaten by fewer carnivores is still referred to as an “Eltonian pyramid. Calculations based on the amount of chemical energy at each level.

the Netherlands: Springer. the ecological disasters the world is facing. 1982. civilizations have been plagued by malnutrition. Dordrecht. economic. For thousands of years this was accomplished by hunting and gathering. These fuels provided the energy to run the factories that created farm equipment and machinery. 1993. Princeton. Paul. and continued warfare and civil strife have all been named as contributors to the problem in modern times. Individuals and societies had more control over what their food supply might be at a given time. With the onset of the agricultural revolution and the advent of organized farming. In real life. S. and industry. Rooney. Other important developments were the scientific and technological advances that occurred beginning in the sixteenth century. and therefore the cessation of pig or cattle farming does not necessarily free up substantial land to grow crops. They later served as a source of energy for farm equipment. having many family members may mean more clout in community affairs. Nitrogen cycle. N. Golley. Carbon cycle. Noakes. the global population was approximately 6. Extra children also provide additional hands to care for parents in their old age. Ecology. eds. Reprint. medical practice.: Princeton University Press.” In Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare: An Ecologist’s Perspective. It would be tempting simply to blame the problem of food shortages on the world’s increasing population. they were not always able to acquire the items they needed in the quantities that were required. and famine. Besides providing more income. Berlin: Springer. Stuart L. hunger. and they are often able to shift food sources widely. and D. New Haven.8 billion. Lithosphere. Menno. 1978.Global Resources eral levels on the food chain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2007. John Richard Schrock Further Reading Colinvaux. Sulfur cycle. Lowenfels. The Industrial Revolution also led to the invention of fuels and machines. The advances in medical science increased the life expectancy of people and thus created additional demands for the foodstuffs that were produced. it is often difficult to draw the boundaries of food chains and food webs.: Yale University Press. Very poor people continue to have large families for a variety of cultural and religious reasons. While this fact did not eradicate the problems caused by natural disasters that could destroy food sources. A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology: More than the Sum of the Parts. The . in some countries children as young as six years of age are part of the family’s labor pool. While the food chain and food web concepts are convenient theoretical ways to summarize feeding interactions among organisms. While people were able to find and to use a variety of types of food. 2002. 2006. Food Webs. See also: Biosphere. real field situations have proved far more complex and difficult to measure. From Energetics to Ecosystems: The Dynamics and Structure of Ecological Systems. it did help to mitigate those catastrophes. the problem was alleviated to a certain extent.J. K. and political issues Throughout human history. L. Large families provide labor. Phosphorus cycle. Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web. New York: Chapman and Hall. Jeff. 2008. Oreg. G. The results of this scientific progress were applied to agricultural endeavors.: Timber Press.. Rather. food shortages are caused by a combination of Food shortages Category: Social. Schilthuizen. Conn. McCann. it has been suggested that a higher world population could be supported by humans moving down the food chain and becoming only vegetarians. Pimm. N. Background The procurement of food is one of the necessities of all societies. The Loom of Life: Unravelling Ecosystems. “The Efficiency of Life. Population By 2009. Ecosystems. Portland. but population increase alone is by no means responsible for the hunger that exists in the world. The knowledge gleaned from science enabled farmers to grow additional crops and to increase the productivity of the land on which they grew them. Food shortages • 449 growth of the human population. Frank Benjamin. A problem with this argument is that much grazing land worldwide is unfit for cultivation. and Wayne Lewis. Animals often switch diets between larval and adult stages.

2009. 2004 Congo.450 • Food shortages Global Resources World’s Hungriest Nations. . Democratic Republic of the Eritrea Burundi Haiti Comoros Sierra Leone Angola Ethiopia Zambia Central African Republic Liberia Rwanda Zimbabwe Chad Mozambique Madagascar Togo Tanzania Tajikistan Djibouti Guinea-Bissau Kenya North Korea Yemen Gambia 76 68 63 58 52 47 46 46 45 43 40 40 40 39 38 37 37 35 34 32 32 32 32 32 30 10 20 30 40 50 60 Undernourished Population (%) 70 80 Source: United Nations. Millennium Development Goals Indicators.

in contrast. Food shortages • 451 Extent and Causes of Hunger Estimates indicate that at least one billion people are hungry at any given time. Pellagra. There are a number of explanations for hunger throughout the world. the infant mortality rate is 180. such as goiter. countries are able to feed their own populations and generally have additional supplies of food to send to other nations. a type of sorghum eaten mainly in India. is caused by a lack of the amino acid tryptophan. the infant mortality rate averages 90 per 1. The World Health (Mohsin Raza/Reuters/Landov) Organization states that more than 820 million people in developing countries suffer from malnutrition. Pellagra is found in countries where the diet consists mainly of maize and jowah. where people have great iodine deficiencies. and a number of other medical problems.) The developed.000 births. however. Almost sixteen thousand children die of hunger-related diseases each day. is one of these related syndromes.31. These are brought on by a lack of protein in the diet and are prevalent in West Africa. Many experts believe that hunger arises not so much from overpopulation as from the inequitable distribution of food supplies. Political scientist Susan George argues this viewpoint and states that it is not only the ineffective or inequitable distribution of food that leads to hunger. as is the case in Bangladesh. Malnutrition. It is often as high as 50 deaths per every 1. the infant mortality rate tends to be high. In other words. In developed countries. Developing countries. each year from hunger. (In all countries the rate varies from area to area. in more developed countries it averages 8. In countries where hunger is greatest.Global Resources elements that contribute to block access to the tools that would enable people or cultural groups to break the cycle of hunger. or highly industrialized. The reduced price of the rice indicate that 14 to 18 million people die is a humanitarian gesture by the government of a country beset by food shortages. Singapore has the lowest rate at 2. One of the easiest methods of ascertaining the extent of hunger worldwide is to examine infant mortality rates. edema. Malnutrition often leads to other diseases. in Angola. In less developed countries.000. in addition. Nutritional blindness also is a side effect of malnutrition. the rate is far lower. Estimates Women in Pakistan buy rice discounted for Ramadan. include more than twothirds of the world’s population and account for more than 90 percent of the hunger that exists in the world. another malnutrition-related disease. or not getting the proper nutrients. a small number of people are responsible for the production of food and are obliged to apportion it to the world. the inequitable income distri- . Infantile marasmus and kwashiorkor are two protein-deficiency diseases that cause lethargy.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. people are unable to pay for artisans’ services and products. Hunger occurs when there are societal dislocations. Graham. and the causes of poverty throughout the world are many. medical care. While societal problems may lead to famines.: Regina Books. Susan. 2007. which translates into hunger as a chronic condition for millions of people throughout the world. 1993. they then become part of the throng of people in overcrowded cities. and other nations. 2008. Stuffed and Starved: Markets. and concomitant violence. and Luther Tweeten. is done to break the process. Since 1970. Golkin. Major famines have occurred throughout history. Desertification is found in a number of African countries as well as in Russia. Ecuador. can cause dislocation in employment. Environmental factors such as soil erosion. Arline T. a situation that eventually leads to food shortages and hunger. See also: Desertification. Douglas. Forests are often destroyed to provide fuel.: H. deforestation. In times of famine. and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Wilson. Calif. Bronx. income. A long and deep recession in a rural area. Judy Arlis Chesen Further Reading Bennett. Environmental degradation. N. Stephen. Susan. George. and North Korea. Devereux. huge increases in the price of food. Developing countries. The End of Food. distribution. These periods can last for several years. Poverty leads to hunger. and those who trade in goods and services. Claremont. for example. with much of the farmland becoming desert annually. Frequently. or at least nothing effective. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. famine exists. 1982. Conn. When groups of people suffer from famine. Norton. New York: Penguin. Nepal. ed. The World Food Economy. Food for Beginners. 1987. Douglas H. New York: Routledge. Toronto: HarperCollins. John Osgood. Arline T. bution among the peoples of the world leads to the inability to purchase food. Stanford. and often the ecosystem is out of balance in a number of ways. The Hunger Machine: The Politics of Food. earning capacity. Drought. Field. the Democratic Republic of the Congo. and often more than a food shortage is involved. Earth First!. W. W. ed.” Hunger exists in rich nations as well as poor. famines have occurred in Ethiopia. and production. The result can be significant numbers of people hoarding. the Sahel region in northern Africa. 1987. Land ethic. in other cases. In Ethiopia. How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger. 1976. Malden. World Hunger. Nigeria. are already degraded. resource exploitation and. and Nigel Paige. Many people have no way to earn a living.: Kumarian Press. which are 30 percent of the globe. Southgate. Golkin summarizes these as “disorders in food production. Roberts. and levels of development. and desertification lead to a diminution of farmland. they can also be the outgrowth of famines. As John Osgood Field . Lessons Learned. 2007. the cause was drought. Claire. artisans. Earth Summit. 2007. they frequently migrate elsewhere if they are able. “famine occurs not only because a chain of events disposes to a famine outcome but also because nothing.: Blackwell. The people who are most subject to displacement by this process are those who own no land. a Heritage of Hunger: A Guide to Issues and References. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. Green Revolution. Jon.Y. Deforestation leads to the washing away of soil. Power. New York: Polity Press in association with B. The Challenge of Famine: Recent Experience. Land-use regulation and control. 2007. When hunger persists in a region for an extended period of time and leads to increased mortality from disease or starvation. For all these reasons there is a shortage of usable farmland. Mass. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that some 70 percent of global drylands. New York: W. Famine. Paul. West Hartford.452 • Food shortages Global Resources states. Desertification is caused by periods of exceptional dryness in an already tenuous climate. Rajeev. Large numbers of people are poor because they have no access to land or to the means of production. a famine is indicative of many underlying structural malfunctions within a society. George.” Most of the countries that are subject to famine do not have the resources with which to break the cycle of famine. civil war was primarily responsible. The New Famines: Why Famines Persist in an Era of Globalization. Sudan. Patel. and many are forced to migrate to other places—which often offer no relief for their suffering. ed. Blackwell. forests are reduced or washed away completely by flooding.