A famine is a widespread scarcity of food, caused by several factors including crop failure, population unbalance, or government policies. This phenomenon is usually accompanied or followed by regional malnutrition, starvation, epidemic, and increased mortality. Nearly every continent in the world has experienced a period of famine throughout history. Some countries, particularly in sub-Sahara Africa, continue to have extreme cases of famine.
The famine relief model increasingly used by aid groups calls for giving cash or cash vouchers to the hungry to pay local farmers instead of buying food from donor countries, as is often required by law (for example U.S. law requires that food aid money be spent on food grown in the U.S.), as it wastes money on transport costs, but more importantly, it perpetuates the cycle of dependency on foreign imports rather than helping to create real local stability through agricultural abundance. Emergency measures in relieving famine include providing high calorie ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), through fortified sachets of peanut-based paste such as Plumpy'nut that are given primarily to children.
Long-term measures include investment in modern agriculture techniques, such as fertilizers and irrigation, which largely eradicated hunger in the developed world. World Bank strictures restrict government subsidies for farmers, and increasing use of fertilizers is opposed by some environmental groups because of its unintended consequences: adverse effects on water supplies and habitat.
Famine strikes Sub-Saharan African countries the hardest, but with exhaustion of food resources, overdrafting of groundwater, wars, internal struggles, and economic failure, famine continues to be a worldwide problem with hundreds of millions of people suffering. These famines cause widespread malnutrition and impoverishment; The famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s had an immense death toll, although Asian famines of the 20th century have also produced extensive death tolls. Modern African famines are characterized by widespread destitution and malnutrition, with heightened mortality confined to young children.
Relief technologies including immunization, improved public health infrastructure, general food rations and supplementary feeding for vulnerable children, has provided temporary mitigation to the mortality impacts of famines, while leaving their economic consequences unchanged, and not solving the underlying issue of too large a regional population relative to food production capability. Humanitarian crises may also arise from genocide campaigns, civil wars, refugee flows and episodes of extreme violence and state collapse, creating famine conditions among the affected populations.
Despite repeated stated intentions by the world's leaders to end hunger and famine, famine remains a chronic threat in much of Africa and Asia. In July 2005, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network labelled Niger with emergency status, as well as Chad, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe. In January 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that 11 million people in Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia were in danger of starvation due to the combination of severe drought and military conflicts. In 2006, the most serious humanitarian crisis in Africa was in Sudan's region Darfur.
Some believed that the Green Revolution was an answer to famine in the 1970s and 1980s. The Green Revolution began in the 20th century with hybrid strains of high-yielding crops. Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%. Some criticize the process, stating that these new high-yielding crops require more chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can harm the environment. However, it was an option for developing nations suffering from famine. These high-yielding crops make it technically possible to feed more people. However, there are indications that regional food production has peaked in many world sectors, due to certain strategies associated with intensive agriculture such as groundwater overdrafting and overuse of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.
Frances Moore Lappé, later co-founder of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) argued in Diet for a Small Planet (1971) that vegetarian diets can provide food for larger populations, with the same resources, compared to omnivorous diets.
Noting that modern famines are sometimes aggravated by misguided economic policies, political design to impoverish or marginalize certain populations, or acts of war, political economists have investigated the political conditions under which famine is prevented. Economist Amartya Sen states that the liberal institutions that exist in India, including competitive elections and a free press, have played a major role in preventing famine in that country since independence. Alex de Waal has developed this theory to focus on the "political contract" between rulers and people that ensures famine prevention, noting the rarity of such political contracts in Africa, and the danger that international relief agencies will undermine such contracts through removing the locus of accountability for famines from national governments.
The demographic impacts of famine are sharp. Mortality is concentrated among children and the elderly. A consistent demographic fact is that in all recorded famines, male mortality exceeds female, even in those populations (such as northern India and Pakistan) where there is a male longevity advantage during normal times. Reasons for this may include greater female resilience under the pressure of malnutrition, and possibly female's naturally higher percentage of body fat. Famine is also accompanied by lower fertility. Famines therefore leave the reproductive core of a population—adult women—lesser affected compared to other population categories, and post-famine periods are often characterized a "rebound" with increased births. Even though the theories of Thomas Malthus would predict that famines reduce the size of the population commensurate with available food resources, in fact even the most severe famines have rarely dented population growth for more than a few years. The mortality in China in 1958–61, Bengal in 1943, and Ethiopia in 1983–85 was all made up by a growing population over just a few years. Of greater long-term demographic impact is emigration: Ireland was chiefly depopulated after the 1840s famines by waves of emigration.
Levels of food insecurity
In modern times, local and political governments and non-governmental organizations that deliver famine relief have limited resources with which to address the multiple situations of food insecurity that are occurring simultaneously. Various methods of categorizing the gradations of food security have thus been used in order to most efficiently allocate food relief. One of the earliest were the Indian Famine Codes devised by the British in the 1880s. The Codes listed three stages of food insecurity: near-scarcity, scarcity and famine, and were highly influential in the creation of subsequent famine warning or measurement systems. The early warning system developed to monitor the region inhabited by the Turkana people in northern Kenya also has three levels, but links each stage to a pre-planned response to mitigate the crisis and prevent its deterioration
The experiences of famine relief organizations throughout the world over the 1980s and 1990s resulted in at least two major developments: the "livelihoods approach" and the increased use of nutrition indicators to determine the severity of a crisis. Individuals and groups in food stressful situations will attempt to cope by rationing consumption, finding alternative means to supplement income, etc. before taking desperate measures, such as selling off plots of agricultural land. When all means of self-support are exhausted, the affected population begins to migrate in search of food or fall victim to outright mass starvation. Famine may thus be viewed partially as a social phenomenon, involving markets, the price of food, and social support structures. A second lesson drawn was the increased use of rapid nutrition assessments, in particular of children, to give a quantitative measure of the famine's severity.
Since 2003, many of the most important organizations in famine relief, such as the World Food Programme and the U.S. Agency for International Development, have adopted a five-level scale measuring intensity and magnitude. The intensity scale uses both livelihoods' measures and measurements of mortality and child malnutrition to categorize a situation as food secure, food insecure, food crisis, famine, severe famine, and extreme famine. The number of deaths determines the magnitude designation, with under 1000 fatalities defining a "minor famine" and a "catastrophic famine" resulting in over 1,000,000 deaths.
Definitions of famines are based on three different categories – these include food supply-based, food consumption-based and mortality-based definitions. Some definitions of famines are:
- Blix – Widespread food shortage leading to significant rise in regional death rates.
- Brown and Eckholm – Sudden, sharp reduction in food supply resulting in widespread hunger.
- Scrimshaw – Sudden collapse in level of food consumption of large numbers of people.
- Ravallion – Unusually high mortality with unusually severe threat to food intake of some segments of a population.
- Cuny – A set of conditions that occurs when large numbers of people in a region cannot obtain sufficient food, resulting in widespread, acute malnutrition.
Food shortages in a population are caused either by a lack of food or by difficulties in food distribution; it may be worsened by natural climate fluctuations and by extreme political conditions related to oppressive government or warfare. One of the proportionally largest historical famines was the Bengal Famine of 1770 in the lower Gangetic plain of East India Company ruled North East India. It began in 1770 due to severe extractive practices of the East India Company. An estimated ten million people died in the famine, roughly one in three people in the affected area. The deaths were greatly exacerbated by the fact that the East India Company raised land taxes by 10% at the height of the famine, in April 1770.
The conventional explanation until 1981 for the cause of famines was the Food availability decline (FAD) hypothesis. The assumption was that the central cause of all famines was a decline in food availability. However, FAD could not explain why only a certain section of the population such as the agricultural laborer was affected by famines while others were insulated from famines. Based on the studies of some recent famines, the decisive role of FAD has been questioned and it has been suggested that the causal mechanism for precipitating starvation includes many variables other than just decline of food availability. According to this view, famines are a result of entitlements, the theory being proposed is called the "failure of exchange entitlements" or FEE. A person may own various commodities that can be exchanged in a market economy for the other commodities he or she needs. The exchange can happen via trading or production or through a combination of the two. These entitlements are called trade-based or production-based entitlements. Per this proposed view, famines are precipitated due to a breakdown in the ability of the person to exchange his entitlements. An example of famines due to FEE is the inability of an agricultural laborer to exchange his primary entitlement, i.e., labor for rice when his employment became erratic or was completely eliminated.
According to the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), global climate change is additionally challenging the Earth's ability to produce food, potentially leading to famine.
Some elements make a particular region more vulnerable to famine. These include poverty, population growth, an inappropriate social infrastructure, a suppressive political regime, and a weak or under-prepared government.
In certain cases, such as the Great Leap Forward in China (which produced the largest famine in absolute numbers), North Korea in the mid-1990s, or Zimbabwe in the early-2000s, famine can occur because of government policy. Few historians have argued that the Great Irish Famine was caused by the shortage of food, given that Ireland was producing enough food to feed its eight million people, but by the British government's choice to leave open the ports, as they are normally closed during Irish crop blights. Records show that in past famines, ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland to feed the Irish. However, this did not occur in the 1840s, and Ireland continued to export food during the Famine. Law professor Charles E. Rice of Notre Dame as well as International Law professor at the University of Illinois Francis A. Boyle have argued that the British government committed genocide by pursuing a policy of starvation in Ireland. This claim has been debated throughout history, but also shows the troubles between the two countries.
In 1932, under the USSR, Ukraine experienced one of their largest famine as a result of state sponsored famine. Termed Holodomor, meaning killing by hunger, between 2.4 and 7.5 millions peasants died from a planned repression to eliminate protesters of collectivization as well. Forced grain quotas imposed upon the rural peasants and brutal terror contributed to the widespread famine despite the large grain harvest and good weather. Soviets continued to deny the problem and did not provide for victims nor accept foreign aid.
In 1958 in China, Mao Zedong's Communist Government began the Great Leap Forward campaign, aimed at rapidly industrializing the country. The government forcibly took control of agriculture. Barely enough grain was left for the peasants, and starvation set in many rural areas. Exportation of grain continued despite the famine to conceal the problem. While the famine is attributed to unintended consequences, it is believed that the government refused to acknowledge the problem, thereby further contributing to the deaths. In many instances, peasants were persecuted. Between 20 to 45 million people perished in this famine, making it one of the most deadly famines to date.
Malawi ended its famine by subsidizing farmers against the strictures of the World Bank. During the 1973 Wollo Famine in Ethiopia, food was shipped out of Wollo to the capital city of Addis Ababa, where it could command higher prices. In the late-1970s and early-1980s, residents of the dictatorships of Ethiopia and Sudan suffered massive famines, but the democracy of Botswana avoided them, despite also having a severe drop in national food production. In Somalia, famine occurred because of a failed state.
Many famines are caused by imbalance of food production compared to the large populations of countries whose population exceeds the regional carrying capacity. Historically, famines have occurred from agricultural problems such as drought, crop failure, or pestilence. Changing weather patterns, the ineffectiveness of medieval governments in dealing with crises, wars, and epidemic diseases such as the Black Death helped to cause hundreds of famines in Europe during the Middle Ages, including 95 in Britain and 75 in France. In France, the Hundred Years' War, crop failures and epidemics reduced the population by two-thirds.
The failure of a harvest or change in conditions, such as drought, can create a situation whereby large numbers of people continue to live where the carrying capacity of the land has temporarily dropped radically. Famine is often associated with subsistence agriculture. The total absence of agriculture in an economically strong area does not cause famine; Arizona and other wealthy regions import the vast majority of their food, since such regions produce sufficient economic goods for trade.
Famines have also been caused by volcanism. The 1815 eruption of the Mount Tambora volcano in Indonesia caused crop failures and famines worldwide and caused the worst famine of the 19th century. The current consensus of the scientific community is that the aerosols and dust released into the upper atmosphere causes cooler temperatures by preventing the sun's energy from reaching the ground. The same mechanism is theorized to be caused by very large meteorite impacts to the extent of causing mass extinctions.
Risk of future famine
The Guardian reports that in 2007 approximately 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded. If current trends of soil degradation continue in Africa, the continent might be able to feed just 25% of its population by 2025, according to UNU's Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa. As of late 2007, increased farming for use in biofuels, along with world oil prices at nearly $100 a barrel, has pushed up the price of grain used to feed poultry and dairy cows and other cattle, causing higher prices of wheat (up 58%), soybean (up 32%), and maize (up 11%) over the year. In 2007 Food riots have taken place in many countries across the world. An epidemic of stem rust, which is destructive to wheat and is caused by race Ug99, has in 2007 spread across Africa and into Asia.
Beginning in the 20th century, nitrogen fertilizers, new pesticides, desert farming, and other agricultural technologies began to be used to increase food production, in part to combat famine. Between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution influenced agriculture, world grain production increased by 250%. Much of this gain is non-sustainable. Such agricultural technologies temporarily increased crop yields. However, as early as 1995, there were signs that they may be contributing to the decline of arable land (e.g. persistence of pesticides leading to soil contamination and decline of area available for farming). Developed nations have shared these technologies with developing nations with a famine problem, but there are ethical limits to pushing such technologies on lesser developed countries. This is often attributed to an association of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides with a lack of sustainability.
David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University, and Mario Giampietro, senior researcher at the National Research Institute on Food and Nutrition (INRAN), place in their study Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy the maximum U.S. population for a sustainable economy at 200 million. To achieve a sustainable economy and avert disaster, the United States must reduce its population by at least one-third, and world population will have to be reduced by two-thirds, says study. The authors of this study believe that the mentioned agricultural crisis will only begin to impact us after 2020, and will not become critical until 2050. The oncoming peaking of global oil production (and subsequent decline of production), along with the peak of North American natural gas production will very likely precipitate this agricultural crisis much sooner than expected.
Geologist Dale Allen Pfeiffer claims that coming decades could see spiraling food prices without relief and massive starvation on a global level such as never experienced before. Water deficits, which are already spurring heavy grain imports in numerous smaller countries, may soon do the same in larger countries, such as China or India. The water tables are falling in scores of countries (including Northern China, the US, and India) due to widespread overpumping using powerful diesel and electric pumps. Other countries affected include Pakistan, Iran, and Mexico. This will eventually lead to water scarcity and cutbacks in grain harvest. Even with the overpumping of its aquifers, China has developed a grain deficit, contributing to the upward pressure on grain prices. Most of the three billion people projected to be added worldwide by mid-century will be born in countries already experiencing water shortages.
After China and India, there is a second tier of smaller countries with large water deficits — Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Mexico, and Pakistan. Four of these already import a large share of their grain. Only Pakistan remains marginally self-sufficient. But with a population expanding by 4 million a year, it will also soon turn to the world market for grain. According to a UN climate report, the Himalayan glaciers that are the principal dry-season water sources of Asia's biggest rivers - Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween and Yellow - could disappear by 2350 as temperatures rise and human demand rises. Approximately 2.4 billion people live in the drainage basin of the Himalayan rivers. India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar could experience floods followed by severe droughts in coming decades. In India alone, the Ganges provides water for drinking and farming for more than 500 million people.
The effort to bring modern agricultural techniques found in the Western world, such as nitrogen fertilizers and pesticides, to Asia, called the Green Revolution, resulted in decreases in malnutrition similar to those seen earlier in Western nations. This was possible because of existing infrastructure and institutions that are in short supply in Africa, such as a system of roads or public seed companies that made seeds available. Supporting farmers in areas of food insecurity, through such measures as free or subsidized fertilizers and seeds, increases food harvest and reduces food prices.
The World Bank and some rich nations press nations that depend on them for aid to cut back or eliminate subsidized agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, in the name of privatization even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. Many, if not most, of the farmers are too poor to afford fertilizer at market prices. For example, in the case of Malawi, almost five million of its 13 million people used to need emergency food aid. However, after the government changed policy and subsidies for fertilizer and seed were introduced, farmers produced record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007 as production leaped to 3.4 million in 2007 from 1.2 million in 2005. This lowered food prices and increased wages for farm workers. Malawi became a major food exporter, selling more corn to the World Food Program and the United Nations than any other country in Southern Africa. Proponents for helping the farmers includes the economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has championed the idea that wealthy countries should invest in fertilizer and seed for Africa’s farmers.
Deficient micronutrients can be provided through fortifying foods. Fortifying foods such as peanut butter sachets (see Plumpy'Nut) and Spirulina have revolutionized emergency feeding in humanitarian emergencies because they can be eaten directly from the packet, do not require refrigeration or mixing with scarce clean water, can be stored for years and, vitally, can be absorbed by extremely ill children. The United Nations World Food Conference of 1974 declared Spirulina as 'the best food for the future' and its ready harvest every 24 hours make it a potent tool to eradicate malnutrition.
What is recommended by WHO and other sources for malnourished children or adults who also have diarrhea is drinking rehydration solution, continuing to eat, antibiotics, and zinc supplements. There is a special oral rehydration solution called ReSoMal which has less sodium and more potassium than standard solution. However, if the diarrhea is severe, the standard solution is preferable as the person needs the extra sodium. Obviously, this is a judgment call best made by a physician, and using either solution is better than doing nothing. Zinc supplements often can help reduce the duration and severity of diarrhea, and Vitamin A can also be helpful. The World Health Organization is quite emphatic on the importance of a person with diarrhea continuing to eat, with a 2005 publication for physicians stating: “Food should never be withheld and the child's usual foods should not be diluted. Breastfeeding should always be continued."
There is a growing realization among aid groups that giving cash or cash vouchers instead of food is a cheaper, faster, and more efficient way to deliver help to the hungry, particularly in areas where food is available but unaffordable. The UN's World Food Program (WFP), the biggest non-governmental distributor of food, announced that it will begin distributing cash and vouchers instead of food in some areas, which Josette Sheeran, the WFP's executive director, described as a "revolution" in food aid. The aid agency Concern Worldwide is piloting a method through a mobile phone operator, Safaricom, which runs a money transfer program that allows cash to be sent from one part of the country to another.
However, for people in a drought living a long way from and with limited access to markets, delivering food may be the most appropriate way to help. Fred Cuny stated that "the chances of saving lives at the outset of a relief operation are greatly reduced when food is imported. By the time it arrives in the country and gets to people, many will have died." US Law, which requires buying food at home rather than where the hungry live, is inefficient because approximately half of what is spent goes for transport. Fred Cuny further pointed out "studies of every recent famine have shown that food was available in-country — though not always in the immediate food deficit area" and "even though by local standards the prices are too high for the poor to purchase it, it would usually be cheaper for a donor to buy the hoarded food at the inflated price than to import it from abroad."
Ethiopia has been pioneering a program that has now become part of the World Bank's prescribed recipe for coping with a food crisis and had been seen by aid organizations as a model of how to best help hungry nations. Through the country's main food assistance program, the Productive Safety Net Program, Ethiopia has been giving rural residents who are chronically short of food, a chance to work for food or cash. Foreign aid organizations like the World Food Program were then able to buy food locally from surplus areas to distribute in areas with a shortage of food.
During the 20th century, an estimated 70 million people died from famines across the world, of whom an estimated 30 million died during the famine of 1958–61 in China. The other most notable famines of the century included the 1942–1945 disaster in Bengal, famines in China in 1928 and 1942, and a sequence of famines in the Soviet Union, including the Soviet famine of 1932-1933, Stalin's famine inflicted on USSR in 1932–33. A few of the great famines of the late 20th century were: the Biafran famine in the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge-caused famine in Cambodia in the 1970s, the Ethiopian famine of 1984–85 and the North Korean famine of the 1990s.
In the mid-22nd century BC, a sudden and short-lived climatic change that caused reduced rainfall resulted in several decades of drought in Upper Egypt. The resulting famine and civil strife is believed to have been a major cause of the collapse of the Old Kingdom. An account from the First Intermediate Period states, "All of Upper Egypt was dying of hunger and people were eating their children." In 1680s, famine extended across the entire Sahel, and in 1738 half the population of Timbuktu died of famine. In Egypt, between 1687 and 1731, there were six famines. The famine that afflicted Egypt in 1784 cost it roughly one-sixth of its population. At the end of the 18th century, and even more at the beginning of the nineteenth, the Maghreb suffered from the deadly combination of plague and famine. Tripoli and Tunis experienced famine in 1784 and 1785 respectively.
According to John Iliffe, "Portuguese records of Angola from the 16th century show that a great famine occurred on average every seventy years; accompanied by epidemic disease, it might kill one-third or one-half of the population, destroying the demographic growth of a generation and forcing colonists back into the river valleys."
With famine reigning over Africa, corruption in governments and foreign aid started to become more prevalent. National governments have control over each of these to varying degrees, although their implementation varies regionally. On the other hand, donors and corporations sometimes build infrastructures and give loans such as the world banks and NATO, but the continued protection and aid depends on the governments and agencies. One common theme in foreign aid and how it is disrupted is a correlation between geography and food security along with class, ethnicity, gender and religion. Foreign aid tends to find its way into hands that don’t need it in corrupt governments, siphoning it away from the poor. Taking the aid away from the people that really need it slows the pace of development and progress ultimately undermines the welfare of citizens.
The first documentation of weather in West-Central Africa occurs around the mid-16th to 17th centuries in areas such as Luanda Kongo, however, not much data was recorded on the issues of weather and disease except for a few notable documents. The only records obtained are of violence between Portuguese and Africans during the battle of mbilwa in 1665. In these documents the Portuguese wrote of African raids on Portuguese merchants solely for food, giving clear signs of famine. Additionally, instances of cannibalism by the African Jaga were also more prevalent during this time frame, indicating an extreme deprivation of a primary food source.
Historians of African famine have documented repeated famines in Ethiopia. Possibly the worst episode occurred in 1888 and succeeding years, as the epizootic rinderpest, introduced into Eritrea by infected cattle, spread southwards reaching ultimately as far as South Africa. In Ethiopia it was estimated that as much as 90 percent of the national herd died, rendering rich farmers and herders destitute overnight. This coincided with drought associated with an el Nino oscillation, human epidemics of smallpox, and in several countries, intense war. The Ethiopian Great famine that afflicted Ethiopia from 1888 to 1892 cost it roughly one-third of its population. In Sudan the year 1888 is remembered as the worst famine in history, on account of these factors and also the exactions imposed by the Mahdist state.
Much of the famines occurring in the 19th and early 20th centuries were caused by wars involving colonization by the British, Spanish, Portuguese, and Belgian empires. Greed and the will to control the territory was what spurred most of these initial droughts into out of control famines. By withholding food supplies, the ensuing famine would suppress any rebellions or opposition to colonization. A prominent figure in the starvation of many Africans around the turn of the 20th century was Belgian King Leopold II who is credited with the forming of the Congo Free State. In forming this state, Leopold used mass labor camps to finance his empire. These camps were occupied by enslaved Africans who were often starved to death. His empire contributed to the death of roughly 10 million Africans and has had long lasting effects on the current Democratic Republic of Congo in which famine and rape are still occurring. William Rubinstein wrote: "More basically, it appears almost certain that the population figures given by Hochschild are inaccurate. There is, of course, no way of ascertaining the population of the Congo before the twentieth century, and estimates like 20 million are purely guesses. Most of the interior of the Congo was literally unexplored if not inaccessible."
Colonial "pacification" efforts often caused severe famine, as for example with the repression of the Maji Maji revolt in Tanganyika in 1906. The introduction of cash crops such as cotton, and forcible measures to impel farmers to grow these crops, also impoverished the peasantry in many areas, such as northern Nigeria, contributing to greater vulnerability to famine when severe drought struck in 1913.
Another example of this pacification can be taken from the years revolving around 1896 in which the British empire destroyed large amounts of grain and food stocks, suppressing a riot being formed by the Ndeblee tribe.
Records compiled for the Himba recall two droughts from 1910-1917. They were recorded by the Himba through a method of oral tradition. From 1910-1911 the Himba described the drought as "drought of the omutati seed" also called omangowi, which means the fruit of an unidentified vine that people ate during the time period. From 1914-1916 droughts brought katur' ombanda or kari' ombanda which means "the time of eating clothing".
For the middle part of the 20th century, agriculturalists, economists and geographers did not consider Africa to be famine prone (they were much more concerned about Asia). There were notable counter-examples, such as the famine in Rwanda during World War II and the Malawi famine of 1949, but most famines were localized and brief food shortages. Although the drought was brief the main cause of death in Rwanda was due to Belgian prerogatives to acquisition grain from their colony (Rwanda). This and the drought caused 300,000 Rwandans to perish.
From 1967-1969 large scale famine occurs in Biafra and Nigeria due to the government blockading the Breakaway territory (see: [Nigerian Civil War]). It is estimated that 1.5 million people died of starvation due to this famine. Additionally, with the added effect of the drought and other corrupt governments withholding food during this time; 500,000 Africans perish in Central and West Africa.
The specter of famine recurred only in the early 1970s, when Ethiopia and the west African Sahel suffered drought and famine. The Ethiopian famine of that time was closely linked to the crisis of feudalism in that country, and in due course helped to bring about the downfall of the Emperor Haile Selassie. The Sahelian famine was associated with the slowly growing crisis of pastoralism in Africa, which has seen livestock herding decline as a viable way of life over the last two generations.
Since then, African famines become more frequent, more widespread and more severe until the start of the 21st century. Since then, more effective early warning and humanitarian response actions have reduced the number of deaths by famine markedly. That said, many African countries are not self-sufficient in food production, relying on income from cash crops to import food. Agriculture in Africa is susceptible to climatic fluctuations, especially droughts which can reduce the amount of food produced locally. Other agricultural problems include soil infertility, land degradation and erosion, swarms of desert locusts, which can destroy whole crops, and livestock diseases. The Sahara reportedly spreads at a rate of up to 30 miles a year. The most serious famines have been caused by a combination of drought, misguided economic policies, and conflict. The 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia, for example, was the outcome of all these three factors, made worse by the Communist government's censorship of the emerging crisis. In Sudan at the same date, drought and economic crisis combined with denials of any food shortage by the then-government of President Gaafar Nimeiry, to create a crisis that killed perhaps 250,000 people—and helped bring about a popular uprising that overthrew Nimeiry.
Numerous factors make the food security situation in Africa tenuous, including political instability, armed conflict and civil war, corruption and mismanagement in handling food supplies, and trade policies that harm African agriculture. An example of a famine created by human rights abuses is the 1998 Sudan famine. AIDS is also having long-term economic effects on agriculture by reducing the available workforce, and is creating new vulnerabilities to famine by overburdening poor households. On the other hand, in the modern history of Africa on quite a few occasions famines acted as a major source of acute political instability. In Africa, if current trends of population growth and soil degradation continue, the continent might be able to feed just 25% of its population by 2025, according to United Nations University (UNU)'s Ghana-based Institute for Natural Resources in Africa.
Recent examples include Sahel drought of the 1970s, Ethiopia in 1973 and mid-1980s, Sudan in the late-1970s and again in 1990 and 1998. The 1980 famine in Karamoja, Uganda was, in terms of mortality rates, one of the worst in history. 21% of the population died, including 60% of the infants.
In the 1980s there was large scale multilayer drought that occurred in the Sudan and Sahelian region of Africa. This was a large concern because even though the Sudanese Government believed there was a surplus of grain, there were local deficits that were occurring across the region.
In October 1984, television reports around the world carried footage of starving Ethiopians whose plight was centered around a feeding station near the town of Korem. BBC newsreader Michael Buerk gave moving commentary of the tragedy on 23 October 1984, which he described as a "biblical famine". This prompted the Band Aid single, which was organized by Bob Geldof and featured more than 20 pop stars. The Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia raised even more funds for the cause. An estimated 900,000 people died within one year as a result of the famine, but the tens of millions of pounds raised by Band Aid and Live Aid are widely believed to have saved the lives of Ethiopians who were in danger of dying.
A central reason as to why the famine (one of the largest seen in the country) is thought to have occurred is that Ethiopia (and the surrounding Horn) was still recovering from the droughts which occurred in the mid-late 1970s. Compounding this problem was the intermittent fighting erupting in the region due to a civil war occurring in Ethiopia. Further issues were created by the government's lack of organization in providing relief; many even hoarded supplies as a way to control the population. Ultimately, over 1 million Ethiopians died and over 22 million people suffered due to the prolonged drought, which lasted roughly 2 years.
Subsequently in 1992 Somalia becomes a war zone with no effective government, police, or basic services. This is mainly due to the collapse of the dictatorship led by [Barre] and the split of power between warlords. Additionally a massive drought occurs at the same instance causing over 300,000 Somalians to perish.
Cases since 2000
- 2005–06 Niger food crisis
The 2005–06 Niger food crisis was a severe but localized food security crisis in the regions of northern Maradi, Tahoua, Tillabéri, and Zinder of Niger. It was caused by an early end to the 2004 rains, desert locust damage to some pasture lands, high food prices, and chronic poverty. In the affected area, 2.4 million of 3.6 million people are considered highly vulnerable to food insecurity An international assessment stated that, of these, over 800,000 face extreme food insecurity and another 800,000 in moderately insecure food situations are in need of aid.
- 2010 Sahel famine
The 2010 Sahel famine hit millions in Niger and across West Africa face food shortages after erratic rains hit farming in countries in the Sahel region south of the Sahara desert, the European Commission's aid group said Thursday. The erratic rains in the 2009/2010 agricultural season have resulted in an enormous deficit in food production in these countries," he said of nations such as Niger, Chad, northern Burkina Faso and northern Nigeria. He said strong leadership would be required from the United Nations and the rest of the international community to mobilise aid. "If we work fast enough, early enough, it won't be a famine. If we don't there is a strong risk."
- 2011 East Africa drought
In mid 2011, two consecutive missed rainy seasons precipitated the worst drought in East Africa in 60 years. The United Nations officially declared a famine in several regions in July of the year, a situation reportedly exacerbated by a temporary ban on relief supplies imposed by Islamist militants. An estimated 50,000 to 150,000 people are reported to have died during the period, though these figures and the extent of the crisis are disputed. In February 2012, the UN announced that the food crisis was over due to a scaling up of relief efforts and a bumper harvest. Aid agencies subsequently shifted their emphasis to recovery efforts, including digging irrigation canals and distributing plant seeds.
- 2012 Sahel drought
July 6 saw the Methodist Relief and Development Fund (MRDF) aid experts say that more than 1,500,000 Nigerians were at risk of famine due to a month long heat wave that was hovering over Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Morocco. A fund of about £20,000 was distributed to the crisis-hit countries of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
Initiatives to increase Food Security
Against a backdrop of conventional interventions through the state or markets, alternative initiatives have been pioneered to address the problem of food security. An example is the "Community Area-Based Development Approach" to agricultural development ("CABDA"), an NGO programme with the objective of providing an alternative approach to increasing food security in Africa. CABDA proceeds through specific areas of intervention such as the introduction of drought-resistant crops and new methods of food production such as agro-forestry. Piloted in Ethiopia in the 1990s it has spread to Malawi, Uganda, Eritrea and Kenya. In an analysis of the programme by the Overseas Development Institute, CABDA's focus on individual and community capacity-building is highlighted. This enables farmers to influence and drive their own development through community-run institutions, bringing food security to their household and region.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered the capital of Phnom Penh and took control of Cambodia. With the application of the fundamental ideals of communism, the new government under Pol Pot drove all urban residents into the countryside to work on communal farm and civil work projects. Without external assistance, with 75% of the necessary draft animals dead from the previous four years of war, agricultural guidelines written by idealists, and work overseen by zealous cadre, the country soon sunk into the depths of famine. No international relief would come until the Vietnamese army invaded in 1979 and liberated the country. While Pol Pot was in power, between one and three million people died out of a total population of eight million. Many were executed, most died from malnourishment and exhaustion as a result of the famine caused by inept and negligent government officials.
Chinese scholars had kept count of 1,828 instances of famine from 108 BC to 1911 in one province or another — an average of close to one famine per year. From 1333 to 1337 a terrible famine killed 6 million Chinese. The four famines of 1810, 1811, 1846, and 1849 are said to have killed no fewer than 45 million people. The period from 1850 to 1873 saw, as a result of the Taiping Rebellion, drought, and famine, the population of China drop by over 60 million people. China's Qing Dynasty bureaucracy, which devoted extensive attention to minimizing famines, is credited with averting a series of famines following El Niño-Southern Oscillation-linked droughts and floods. These events are comparable, though somewhat smaller in scale, to the ecological trigger events of China's vast 19th-century famines. (Pierre-Etienne Will, Bureaucracy and Famine) Qing China carried out its relief efforts, which included vast shipments of food, a requirement that the rich open their storehouses to the poor, and price regulation, as part of a state guarantee of subsistence to the peasantry (known as ming-sheng).
When a stressed monarchy shifted from state management and direct shipments of grain to monetary charity in the mid-19th century, the system broke down. Thus the 1867–68 famine under the Tongzhi Restoration was successfully relieved but the Great North China Famine of 1877–78, caused by drought across northern China, was a catastrophe. The province of Shanxi was substantially depopulated as grains ran out, and desperately starving people stripped forests, fields, and their very houses for food. Estimated mortality is 9.5 to 13 million people. ( Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts)
Great Leap Forward
The largest famine of the 20th century, and almost certainly of all time, was the 1958–61 Great Leap Forward famine in China. The immediate causes of this famine lay in Mao Zedong's ill-fated attempt to transform China from an agricultural nation to an industrial power in one huge leap. Communist Party cadres across China insisted that peasants abandon their farms for collective farms, and begin to produce steel in small foundries, often melting down their farm instruments in the process. Collectivisation undermined incentives for the investment of labor and resources in agriculture; unrealistic plans for decentralized metal production sapped needed labor; unfavorable weather conditions; and communal dining halls encouraged overconsumption of available food (see Chang, G, and Wen, G (1997), " Communal dining and the Chinese Famine 1958-1961" ). Such was the centralized control of information and the intense pressure on party cadres to report only good news—such as production quotas met or exceeded—that information about the escalating disaster was effectively suppressed. When the leadership did become aware of the scale of the famine, it did little to respond, and continued to ban any discussion of the cataclysm. This blanket suppression of news was so effective that very few Chinese citizens were aware of the scale of the famine, and the greatest peacetime demographic disaster of the 20th century only became widely known twenty years later, when the veil of censorship began to lift.
The exact number of famine deaths during 1958–61 is difficult to determine, and estimates range from 18 to at least 42 million people, with a further 30 million cancelled or delayed births. It was only when the famine had wrought its worst that Mao was forced to reverse agricultural collectivisation policies, which were effectively dismantled in 1978. China has not experienced a famine of the proportions of the Great Leap Forward since 1961.
Owing to its almost entire dependence upon the monsoon rains, India is vulnerable to crop failures, which upon occasion deepen into famine. There were 14 famines in India between the 11th and 17th centuries (Bhatia, 1985). For example, during the 1022–1033 Great famines in India entire provinces were depopulated. Famine in Deccan killed at least 2 million people in 1702-1704. B.M. Bhatia believes that the earlier famines were localised, and it was only after 1860, during the British rule, that famine came to signify general shortage of foodgrains in the country. There were approximately 25 major famines spread through states such as Tamil Nadu in the south, and Bihar and Bengal in the east during the latter half of the 19th century.
Romesh Chunder Dutt argued as early as 1900, and present-day scholars such as Amartya Sen agree, that some historic famines were a product of both uneven rainfall and British economic and administrative policies, which since 1857 had led to the seizure and conversion of local farmland to foreign-owned plantations, restrictions on internal trade, heavy taxation of Indian citizens to support British expeditions in Afghanistan (see The Second Anglo-Afghan War), inflationary measures that increased the price of food, and substantial exports of staple crops from India to Britain. (Dutt, 1900 and 1902; Srivastava, 1968; Sen, 1982; Bhatia, 1985.) Some British citizens, such as William Digby, agitated for policy reforms and famine relief, but Lord Lytton, the governing British viceroy in India, opposed such changes in the belief that they would stimulate shirking by Indian workers. The first, the Bengal famine of 1770, is estimated to have taken around 10 million lives — one-third of Bengal's population at the time. Other notable famines include the Great Famine of 1876–78, in which 6.1 million to 10.3 million people died and the Indian famine of 1899–1900, in which 1.25 to 10 million people died. The famines continued until independence in 1947, with the Bengal Famine of 1943–44— even though there were no crop failures —killing 1.5 million to 3 million Bengalis during World War II.
The observations of the Famine Commission of 1880 support the notion that food distribution is more to blame for famines than food scarcity. They observed that each province in British India, including Burma, had a surplus of foodgrains, and the annual surplus was 5.16 million tons (Bhatia, 1970). At that time, annual export of rice and other grains from India was approximately one million tons.
|“||Population growth worsened the plight of the peasantry. As a result of peace and improved sanitation and health, the Indian population rose from perhaps 100 million in 1700 to 300 million by 1920. While encouraging agricultural productivity, the British also provided economic incentives to have more children to help in the fields. Although a similar population increase occurred in Europe at the same time, the growing numbers could be absorbed by industrialization or emigration to the Americas and Australia. India enjoyed neither an industrial revolution nor an increase in food growing. Moreover, Indian landlords had a stake in the cash crop system and discouraged innovation. As a result, population numbers far outstripped the amount of available food and land, creating dire poverty and widespread hunger .||”|
—-Craig A. Lockard, Societies, Networks, and Transitions
In 1966, there was a close call in Bihar, when the United States allocated 900,000 tons of grain to fight the famine. Three years of drought in India resulted in an estimated 1.5 million deaths from starvation and disease.
Between 1603 and 1868 there were, according to one authority, at least 130 famines, of which 21 were widespread and serious.
Iraq, for example, had suffered famines in 1801, 1827 and 1831. In Anatolia, a great famine erupted in 1873-74 and killed tens of thousands.
The Great Persian Famine of 1870–1871 is believed to have caused the death of 1.5 million persons in Persia (present–day Iran), which would represent 20–25 percent of Persia's estimated total population of 6–7 million.
Lebanon became increasingly dependent on food imports from abroad, making the country extremely vulnerable to famine during World War I. By the end of the war, an estimated 100,000 of Lebanon's 450,000 population had died of famine.
Famine struck North Korea in the mid-1990s, set off by unprecedented floods. This autarkic urban, industrial society had achieved food self-sufficiency in prior decades through a massive industrialization of agriculture. However, the economic system relied on massive concessionary inputs of fossil fuels, primarily from the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. When the Soviet collapse and China's marketization switched trade to a hard currency, full price basis, North Korea's economy collapsed. The vulnerable agricultural sector experienced a massive failure in 1995–96, expanding to full-fledged famine by 1996–99. An estimated 600,000 died of starvation (other estimates range from 200,000 to 3.5 million). North Korea has not yet resumed its food self-sufficiency and relies on external food aid from China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States. While Woo-Cumings have focused on the FAD side of the famine, Moon argues that FAD shifted the incentive structure of the authoritarian regime to react in a way that forced millions of disenfranchised people to starve to death (Moon, 2009).
Various famines have occurred in Vietnam. Japanese occupation during World War II caused the Vietnamese Famine of 1945, which caused 2 million deaths, or 10% of the population then. Following the unification of the country after the Vietnam War, Vietnam experienced a food shortage in the 1980s, which prompted many people to flee the country.
The Great Famine of 1315–1317 (or to 1322) was the first major food crisis that struck Europe in the 14th century. Millions in northern Europe would die over an extended number of years, marking a clear end to the earlier period of growth and prosperity during the 11th and 12th centuries. Starting with bad weather in the spring of 1315, widespread crop failures lasted until the summer of 1317, from which Europe did not fully recover until 1322. It was a period marked by extreme levels of criminal activity, disease and mass death, infanticide, and cannibalism. It had consequences for Church, State, European society and future calamities to follow in the 14th century. Medieval Britain was afflicted by 95 famines, and France suffered the effects of 75 or more in the same period. The famine of 1315–6 may have killed at least 10% of England's population, or at least 500,000 people.
The 17th century was a period of change for the food producers of Europe. For centuries they had lived primarily as subsistence farmers in a feudal system. They had obligations to their lords, who had suzerainty over the land tilled by their peasants. The lord of a fief would take a portion of the crops and livestock produced during the year. Peasants generally tried to minimize the amount of work they had to put into agricultural food production. Their lords rarely pressured them to increase their food output, except when the population started to increase, at which time the peasants were likely to increase the production themselves. More land would be added to cultivation until there was no more available and the peasants were forced to take up more labour-intensive methods of production. Nonetheless, as long as they had enough to feed their families, they preferred to spend their time doing other things, such as hunting, fishing or relaxing. It was not necessary to produce more than they could eat or store themselves.
During the 17th century, continuing the trend of previous centuries, there was an increase in market-driven agriculture. Farmers, people who rented land in order to make a profit off of the product of the land, employing wage labour, became increasingly common, particularly in western Europe. It was in their interest to produce as much as possible on their land in order to sell it to areas that demanded that product. They produced guaranteed surpluses of their crop every year if they could. Farmers paid their labourers in money, increasing the commercialization of rural society. This commercialization had a profound impact on the behaviour of peasants. Farmers were interested in increasing labour input into their lands, not decreasing it as subsistence peasants were.
Subsistence peasants were also increasingly forced to commercialize their activities because of increasing taxes. Taxes that had to be paid to central governments in money forced the peasants to produce crops to sell. Sometimes they produced industrial crops, but they would find ways to increase their production in order to meet both their subsistence requirements as well as their tax obligations. Peasants also used the new money to purchase manufactured goods. The agricultural and social developments encouraging increased food production were gradually taking place throughout the 16th century, but were spurred on more directly by the adverse conditions for food production that Europe found itself in the early 17th century — there was a general cooling trend in the Earth's temperature starting at the beginning end of the 16th century.
The 1590s saw the worst famines in centuries across all of Europe, except in certain areas, notably the Netherlands. Famine had been relatively rare during the 16th century. The economy and population had grown steadily as subsistence populations tend to when there is an extended period of relative peace (most of the time). Subsistence peasant populations will almost always increase when possible since the peasants will try to spread the work to as many hands as possible. Although peasants in areas of high population density, such as northern Italy, had learned to increase the yields of their lands through techniques such as promiscuous culture, they were still quite vulnerable to famines, forcing them to work their land even more intensively.
Famine is a very destabilizing and devastating occurrence. The prospect of starvation led people to take desperate measures. When scarcity of food became apparent to peasants, they would sacrifice long-term prosperity for short-term survival. They would kill their draught animals, leading to lowered production in subsequent years. They would eat their seed corn, sacrificing next year's crop in the hope that more seed could be found. Once those means had been exhausted, they would take to the road in search of food. They migrated to the cities where merchants from other areas would be more likely to sell their food, as cities had a stronger purchasing power than did rural areas. Cities also administered relief programs and bought grain for their populations so that they could keep order. With the confusion and desperation of the migrants, crime would often follow them. Many peasants resorted to banditry in order to acquire enough to eat.
One famine would often lead to difficulties in the following years because of lack of seed stock or disruption of routine, or perhaps because of less-available labour. Famines were often interpreted as signs of God's displeasure. They were seen as the removal, by God, of His gifts to the people of the Earth. Elaborate religious processions and rituals were made to prevent God's wrath in the form of famine.
The great famine of the 1590s began the period of famine and decline in the 17th century. The price of grain, all over Europe was high, as was the population. Various types of people were vulnerable to the succession of bad harvests that occurred throughout the 1590s in different regions. The increasing number of wage labourers in the countryside were vulnerable because they had no food of their own, and their meager living was not enough to purchase the expensive grain of a bad-crop year. Town labourers were also at risk because their wages would be insufficient to cover the cost of grain, and, to make matters worse, they often received less money in bad-crop years since the disposable income of the wealthy was spent on grain. Often, unemployment would be the result of the increase in grain prices, leading to ever-increasing numbers of urban poor.
All areas of Europe were badly affected by the famine in these periods, especially rural areas. The Netherlands was able to escape most of the damaging effects of the famine, though the 1590s were still difficult years there. Actual famine did not occur, for the Amsterdam grain trade [with the Baltic] guaranteed that there would always be something to eat in the Netherlands although hunger was prevalent.
The Netherlands had the most commercialized agriculture in all of Europe at this time, growing many industrial crops, such as flax, hemp, and hops. Agriculture became increasingly specialized and efficient. As a result, productivity and wealth increased, allowing the Netherlands to maintain a steady food supply. By the 1620s, the economy was even more developed, so the country was able to avoid the hardships of that period of famine with even greater impunity.
The years around 1620 saw another period of famines sweep across Europe. These famines were generally less severe than the famines of twenty-five years earlier, but they were nonetheless quite serious in many areas. Perhaps the worst famine since 1600, the great famine in Finland in 1696, killed one-third of the population. PDF (589 KiB)
Two massive famines struck France between 1693 and 1710, killing over two million people. In both cases the impact of harvest failure was exacerbated by wartime demands on the food supply.
As late as the 1690s, Scotland experienced famine which reduced the population of parts of Scotland by at least 15%.
The famine of 1695–96 killed roughly 10% of Norway's population. At least nine severe harvest failures were recorded in the Scandinavian countries between 1740 and 1800, each resulting in a substantial rise of the death rate.
The period of 1740–43 saw frigid winters and summer droughts which led to famine across Europe leading to a major spike in mortality. (cited in Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts, 281) The freezing winter of 1740-41, which led to widespread famine in northern Europe, may owe its origins to a volcanic eruption.
The Great Famine, which lasted from 1770 until 1771, killed about one tenth of Czech lands’ population, or 250,000 inhabitants, and radicalized countrysides leading to peasant uprisings.
Other areas of Europe have known famines much more recently. France saw famines as recently as the 19th century. Famine still occurred in eastern Europe during the 20th century.
The frequency of famine can vary with climate changes. For example, during the little ice age of the 15th century to the 18th century, European famines grew more frequent than they had been during previous centuries. The led to the rise of conspiracy theories concerning the causes behind these famines, such as the Pacte de Famine in France.
Because of the frequency of famine in many societies, it has long been a chief concern of governments and other authorities. In pre-industrial Europe, preventing famine, and ensuring timely food supplies, was one of the chief concerns of many governments, which employed various tools to alleviate famines, including price controls, purchasing stockpiles of food from other areas, rationing, and regulation of production. Most governments were concerned by famine because it could lead to revolt and other forms of social disruption.
Famine returned to the Netherlands during World War II in what was known as the Hongerwinter. It was the last famine of Western Europe, in which approximately 30,000 people died of starvation. Some other areas of Europe also experienced famine at the same time.
The harvest failures were devastating for the northern Italian economy. The economy of the area had recovered well from the previous famines, but the famines from 1618 to 1621 coincided because of a period of war in the area. The economy did not recover fully for centuries. There were serious famines in the late-1640s and less severe ones in the 1670s throughout northern Italy.
In northern Italy, a report of 1767 noted that there had been famine in 111 of the previous 316 years (i.e. the period 1451-1767) and only sixteen good harvests.
According to Stephen L. Dyson and Robert J. Rowland, "The Jesuits of Cagliari [in Sardinia] recorded years during the late 1500s "of such hunger and so sterile that the majority of the people could sustain life only with wild ferns and other weeds" ... During the terrible famine of 1680, some 80,000 persons, out of a total population of 250,000, are said to have died, and entire villages were devastated..."
From 1536 England began legislating Poor Laws which put a legal responsibility on the rich, at a parish level, to maintain the poor of that parish. English agriculture lagged behind the Netherlands, but by 1650 their agricultural industry was commercialized on a wide scale. The last peace-time famine in England was in 1623–24. There were still periods of hunger, as in the Netherlands, but there were no more famines as such. Rising population levels continued to put a strain on food security, despite potatoes becoming increasingly important in the diet of the poor. On balance, potatoes increased food security in England where they never replaced bread as the staple of the poor. Climate conditions were never likely to simultaneously be catastrophic for both the wheat and potato crops.
According to Bryson (1974), there were thirty-seven famine years in Iceland between 1500 and 1804.
In 1783 the volcano Laki in south-central Iceland erupted. The lava caused little direct damage, but ash and sulfur dioxide spewed out over most of the country, causing three-quarters of the island's livestock to perish. In the following famine, around ten thousand people died, one-fifth of the population of Iceland. [Asimov, 1984, 152-153]
Iceland was also hit by a potato famine between 1862 and 1864. Lesser known than the Irish potato famine, the Icelandic potato famine was caused by the same blight that ravaged most of Europe during the 1840s. About 5 percent of Iceland's population died during the famine.
The country suffered from severe famines, and that of 1696–1697 may have killed a third of the population. The Finnish famine of 1866–1868 killed 15% of the population.
The Great Famine in Ireland, 1846–1851, was caused in part by policies of the Whig government of the United Kingdom under Lord Russell. The land in Ireland was owned mostly by Anglican people of English descent, who did not identify culturally or ethnically with the Irish population. The landlords were known as the Anglo-Irish and felt no compulsion to use their political clout to aid their tenants and in fact saw it as an opportunity to claim more land for high profit cattle grazing as the Irish died off or left. The British government's response to the food crisis in Ireland was to leave the matter solely to market forces to decide. In reality, since the British had forcefully taken the land from the native Irish over the centuries the Irish had little means to support themselves beyond the meager amount of land set aside for the potato crop. The potato had been grown by the Irish as it is a very high calorie per acre yield. Even if the Irish were able to obtain other crops they would not have been enough to support the population on the small amount of land allocated to them, only a potato crop could do that. Ireland was a net food exporter during the famine with the British army guarding ports and food depots from the starving crowds.
The immediate effect was 1,000,000 dead and another 2,000,000 refugees fleeing to Britain, Australia and the United States. After the famine passed, infertility caused by famine, diseases and emigration spurred by the landlord-run economy being so thoroughly undermined, caused the population to enter into a 100-year decline. It was not until the 1970s (half a century after most of Ireland became independent) that the population of Ireland, then at half of what it had been before the famine, began to rise again. This period of Irish population decline after the famine was at a time when the European population doubled and the English population increased fourfold. This left the country severely underpopulated. The population decline continued in parts of the country worst affected by the famine (the west coast) until the 1990s - 150 years after the famine. Before the Hunger, Ireland's population was over half of England's. Today it is less than 10%. The population of Ireland is 5 million but there are over 80 million more people of Irish descent outside of Ireland. That is sixteen times the population of Ireland.
Russia and the USSR
According to Scott and Duncan (2002), "Eastern Europe experienced more than 150 recorded famines between AD 1500 and 1700 and there were 100 hunger years and 121 famine years in Russia between AD 971 and 1974."
Droughts and famines in Imperial Russia are known to have happened every 10 to 13 years, with average droughts happening every 5 to 7 years. Eleven major famines scourged Russia between 1845 and 1922, one of the worst being the famine of 1891–2. Famines continued in the Soviet era, the most notorious being the Holodomor in various parts of the country, especially the Volga, and the Ukrainian and northern Kazakh SSR's during the winter of 1932–1933. The Soviet famine of 1932–1933 is nowadays reckoned to have cost an estimated 6 million lives. The last major famine in the USSR happened in 1947 due to the severe drought and the mismanagement of grain reserves by the Soviet government.
The Hunger Plan, i.e. the Nazi plan to starve large sections of the Soviet population, caused the deaths of many. The Russian Academy of Sciences in 1995 reported civilian victims in the USSR at German hands, including Jews, totaled 13.7 million dead, 20% of the 68 million persons in the occupied USSR. This included 4.1 million famine and disease deaths in occupied territory. There were an additional estimated 3 million famine deaths in areas of the USSR not under German occupation.
The 872 days of the Siege of Leningrad (1941–1944) caused unparalleled famine in the Leningrad region through disruption of utilities, water, energy and food supplies. This resulted in the deaths of about one million people.
The pre-Columbian Americans often dealt with severe food shortages and famines. The persistent drought around 850 AD coincided with the collapse of Classic Maya civilization, and the famine of One Rabbit (AD 1454) was a major catastrophe in Mexico.
Brazil's 1877–78 Grande Seca (Great Drought), the most severe ever recorded in Brazil, caused approximately half a million deaths. The one from 1915 was devastating too.
Easter Island was hit by a great famine between the 15th and 18th centuries. Hunger and subsequent cannibalism was caused by overpopulation and depletion of natural resources as a result of intensive use of local forests, needed to support the lifting of megalithic monuments.
There are other documented episodes of famine in various islands of Polynesia, such as occurred in Ka'u, Hawai'i in 1868.
According to Daniel Lord Smail, " “Famine cannibalism” was until recently a regular feature of life in the islands of the Massim near New Guinea and of some other societies of Southeast Asia and the Pacific."
Society and culture
Famine personified as an allegory is found in some cultures, e.g. one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in Christian tradition, the fear gorta of Irish folklore, or the Wendigo of Algonquian tradition.