in category Ottomans

Who was to blame for the Lebanese famine in 1915-18 - the Allies or the Ottomans?

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It is simplistic to attempt to blame the Allied or Ottoman blockade of the region during World War 1. The reality is a little more complex.

After the Ottomans joined Germany in the war, the Allies enforced a blockade of the entire Eastern Mediterranean to cut the supplies to the Ottomans which had a dramatic effect on silk production, the main work undertaken by women in mills before it was exported to Europe, leaving them without work and income resulting in mass-poverty.

Add to this then Ottoman mismanagement, poor decisions by certain officials and soldiers, problems with supply systems along with agricultural production dropping, attacks of swarms of locusts and poor weather, the disaster emerged of famine and starvation emerged.

History Professor Aaron Tylor Brand of the American University of Beirut argues in his dissertation on the famine:

"Previous interpretations of the famine as a deliberate product of Ottoman or Allied actions are too simplistic. Analysing monthly price lists and climatic statistics of the famine period and contextualising these within the history of famine in the region suggests that the high prices that drove the region towards famine in late 1915 were the product of environmental factors (poor rainfall, a climatic oscillation, and locust attack) and wartime mismanagement that conscripted too heavily in the countryside at a time when agricultural goods were needed for both the war and the population...

The result was a crisis in the countryside that led to underproduction of agricultural goods, prompting speculation that increased the cost of living. This, combined with the loss of jobs due to the Allied blockade in Mount Lebanon and the coastal regions, created a situation where people, who were already growing poor due to the work stoppage, were then forced to buy expensive food to feed their families and keep themselves alive.

State policies like price fixing, the introduction of paper money, the implementation of production and transportation controls of grain and taxation did little to help the situation..." (Lives Darkened by Calamity: Enduring the Famine of WWI in Lebanon and Western Syria)

It wasn't the fact there was little or no food in most towns in the region, the problem was it had become too expensive for most resulting in families slowly starving to death, diseases and illnesses prevalent, with rises in epidemics like malaria, dysentery, typhoid and typhus. With refugees fleeing to cities looking for work and food also contributed to the increase in epidemic disease.

Most regions across Syria suffered to some degree, with the highest death tolls in Mount Lebanon, given the lack of accurate data, estimated at 200,000 plus.

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