Wednesday, November 21, 2007



Famine is the occurrence of drastic food shortages resulting in widespread malnutrition, starvation, epidemic and substantial rises in the death rate. Usually mortality during famines was not caused solely by starvation but from related diseases like typhus, dysentery, and typhoid. Another view of famine is a failure of the poor to get sufficient resources to acquire vital food. Most famines have long development periods, usually covering two or more crop seasons. Historically, famines occurred because of droughts and crop failure. They also occurred because of manmade causes such as war or misled policies. Landless traders and laborers are most vulnerable to famine because of decreasing demands for laborer, good and services. Fishermen also face the same problem because they rely on the exchange of meat and marine products. Famine mostly occur in LEDC's, for at times when grain production decreases, the MEDC's can afford to buy food while LEDC's cannot. LEDC's suffer more than MEDC's. This is because MEDC's have a stronger economy and government support. Nevertheless, it is still very unlikely for famine to happen in MEDC's. There are many famine-prone areas such as China, Soviet Union, Ukraine, Cambodia, Ethiopia, and South Korea.

During famines, mortality is concentrated among babies and the elderly. In all recorded famines, male mortality is higher than the female. This is because women are better at finding and processing wild foods. Famine also causes lower fertility rate. So far, as these observations are concerned, it is crucial to note that not only a series of catastrophic events set out to a famine outcome but also because nothing effective is made to break this process. It is rare that the government of famine-prone countries would intervene to prevent famine. Even today, the best solution to famine is via economic development which takes a considerable period of time.

During the twentieth century, about 70 million people died from famine across the world; 30 million people of which died from the Great Chinese Famine.

The Great Chinese Famine

Forty years ago, China faced the world’s greatest famine. It was between the spring of 1959 and the end of 1961 that 30 million Chinese starved to death and about the same number of births were postponed or lost. In terms of suffering, there is no doubt that the Chinese famine was the worst famine of modern times.

The Chinese famine was mainly a manmade catastrophe for which Mao Zedong bore the greatest responsibility. The origin of the famine was traced to Mao Zedong’s decision to begin the Great Leap Forward. Mao had explored China and brought to a close that the Chinese people were capable of anything in any situation. Industry and agriculture were two primary tasks that he felt they should target. Therefore, Mao announced the Five Year Plan which lasted from 1958-1963 called the Great Leap Forward. The steel production was Mao’s centerpiece of this effort. Ten of millions of peasants were forced to mine local deposits of limestone and iron ore. They were also commanded to cut trees for charcoal, to smelt metal, and to build clay furnaces. All peasants were forced to discard private food production, and the latest agricultural communes grew less land to grain, which at that time was considered the source of more than 80% of China’s food energy. The grain output decreased by 15% in 1959 and, in 1960, reached only 70% of its 1958 level. Distribution of food was controlled by the government, and food rationing system existed only in urban areas.

Grain procurement quotas were imposed on farmers in the rural areas. Drought has exacerbated the suffering. Undoubtedly, the 1960 drought had lowered the grain supply. However, the drought itself caused a small fraction of nationwide death toll. The urban-biased food distribution and the drop of food output were the fundamental causes of the Chinese famine.

In many areas, because of the famine, marriages had been postponed. It was due to the difficulty of providing money for the marriage ceremonies and the reluctance of the man to take in an extra mouth. Even when couples were married, births were mostly avoided or postponed. Malnutrition had reduced people’s fertility.In 1959-1961, there were 34 million births fewer in comparison with other years. The Chinese famine had caused the world’s population to drop rapidly in the years 1958-1961.

Adequate preparations should be made to prevent famine. Collection of data on the food sources, local climate, and population movements should be compiled. Even after the crisis, data should be recorded and kept for future reference. Each country should plan to train people in relief work, who would work regularly in their normal employment until famine arose. A handbook brought together to inform governments of what is required during a famine. For example, what kinds of food should be given to the famine victims? Should quality of food be considered more than quantity?


Famine, without government's interference, or at least not in time, can bring about a massive number of deaths. It is considered possible for famine to arise in the future but very less likely because many countries in the modern world are developed. China, in most of the provinces, is more prosperous than before. Research shows that global warming may have an impact on the possibility of famine’s occurrence. Global warming is likely to decrease food production and significantly increase world’s hunger. The effect of global warming on agriculture will possibly raise the number of people at risk of hunger especially in countries with low economic growth and high malnourishment levels. However, global warming also brings longer growing seasons, more sunshine, and more rainfall. It also decrease crop-killing frost in the early fall. In Medieval Warming in the past, the European crops and population had flourished. Whether or not famine is predicted to be taken place, it is best to be well aware of and organize a sufficient preparation.