Famine Trends

The End of Famine?


The Famine Trends dataset (updated 5 April 2017) includes great famines, defined as a food crisis that causes elevated mortality over a specific period of time for which the upper estimates of excess death exceed 100,000, and episodes of mass intentional starvation between 1870 and 2010.

Introduction

The Famine Trends dataset includes two kinds of overlapping events, which have hitherto largely been studied separately. One set of events is great and catastrophic famines. A famine is defined as a food crisis that causes elevated mortality over a specific period of time. Using the criteria developed by Stephen Devereux (Devereux 2000) for ‘great famines’ (100,000 or more excess deaths) and ‘catastrophic famines’ (one million or more excess deaths), it includes any famine for which the upper estimate of excess deaths falls above 100,000. Using the four-point scale for ‘famine crimes’ developed by David Marcus (Marcus 2003), it also includes episodes of mass intentional starvation. For these events, the threshold is 10,000 deaths by starvation for inclusion in the listing. However, only events of mass intentional starvation that caused over 100,000 deaths are included in the quantitative dataset, on which the graphs are based.

There are major methodological issues with the estimation of excess mortality. Generally speaking, better demographic calculations lead to lower estimations of excess deaths than those provided by journalists and other contemporary observers. We might therefore reasonably expect an upward bias in the figures for earlier famines on the record. On the other hand, contemporary definitions of famine (e.g. Howe and Devereux 2004) provide thresholds for nutrition and mortality that correspond with normal or near-normal conditions in many historic societies (see Ó Gráda 2015, pp. 174-5).

For more discussion of the data, see Alex de Waal, "Armed Conflict and the Challenge of Hunger: Is an End in Sight?" in The 2015 Global Hunger Index (Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide). See also de Waal's posts on famine on the WPF blog, Reinventing Peace. de Waal is currently working on a book project, which is partially based on this dataset. The book, to be published by Polity Press in late 2017, will explore the history of modern famines: their causes, dimensions, and why they ended.


Tables and Graphs

Graph 1: Famine mortality by decade: 1870-2010

This graph plots worldwide famine mortality between 1870 and 2010, by decade.

Famines and episodes of forcible mass starvation have killed 104.3 million people since 1870. The main trend, however, is downwards. In each decade between the 1870s and the 1970s, great famines killed between 1.45 million and 16.64 million, at an average of about 927,810 per year. The last calamitous famine was Cambodia in 1975-79. Since 1980, the annual death toll in great famines has averaged 75,217, or about 8 per cent of the historic level.

Download a pdf version of this graph.


Graph 2: World Population Growth and Death Toll from Great Famines: 1870-2010

The decline in famines is inversely correlated with the growth in world population, from about 1.3 billion in 1870 to 7 billion today.

Download a pdf version of this graph. 

 

 

Graph 3: Famine Mortality by Region and Decade: 1870-2010

The history of great famines can be classified into 4 broad periods: (a) famines of European colonialism (till about 1914); (b) the extended period of the world wars and accompanying mass starvation (from 1914 till about 1950); (c) famines caused by totalitarianism (including the famine caused by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward), and (d) Decline and smaller famines and humanitarian crises since the 1970’s (primarily in sub-Saharan Africa). 

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Graph 4: Regional distribution of famine deaths: 1870-2010

The geography of modern famine is overwhelmingly a story of Asia and eastern Europe, which account for 87.4 percent of famine deaths in the period. Approximately half of these (56.5 million) were in East and South-east Asia: mostly China but also Vietnam, Indonesia and Cambodia. South Asia accounted for a further 16.5 million. Europe including the USSR accounted for 18.17 million.

African famine deaths during the entire period are estimated at 9.18 percent of the total, 9.575 million, most of them in the late nineteenth century, in Congo and north-east Africa.  Latin America counted about 1.5 million famine deaths, all of them in Brazil in the nineteenth century. The Middle East has an estimated 2.07 million deaths, most associated with World War One and the Armenian genocide.

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Graph 4b: Regional distribution of famine deaths: 1870-2010

This chart demonstrates the same information as above.

Download a pdf version of this graph.

 

Graph 5: Famine mortality associated with armed conflict and political repression: 1870-2010

The vast majority of famine deaths were association with conflict or political repression. 35.2 million occurred in wartime, with a further 1.7 million in countries emerging from armed conflict. 42.43 million deaths occurred in famines under active political repression such as repressive colonial rule or dictatorship. A smaller number, 24.975 million deaths, was associated with neither.

Download a pdf version of this graph. 

 

Graph 6: Famine deaths and faminogenic behaviour

Following David Marcus (2003), we categorize ‘faminogenic acts’ on a four-point scale:

  • First degree famine crimes: Governments or other authorities that deliberately use famine as a tool of extermination or a means of forcing a population to submit to their control. These killed 8.3 million people, 7.9 percent.
  • Second degree famine crimes: Public authorities pursue policies that are the principal cause of famine, and continue to pursue these policies even after becoming aware that they result in famine. These killed 63.7 million, 61 percent, in all continents except the Americas, and in every time period.  
  • Third degree of culpable famine causation: Public authorities are indifferent: their policies may not be the principal cause of famine, but they do little or nothing to alleviate hunger. These killed 19.1 million, 18.3 percent.
  • Fourth degree or non-culpability: Incapable or incapacitated authorities, faced with food crises caused by external factors (climatic, economic, etc.), are unable to respond effectively to needs. These killed 13.3 million, 12.8 percent.

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Graph 7: Famine deaths, armed conflict and faminogenic behaviour: 1870-2010

This graph disaggregates famine mortality, by plotting the number (and proportion) of deaths that took place during conditions of war and repression, and the faminogenic behavior of governments during that period. As expected, we find that first and second degree faminogenic acts only took place during war or political repression. 

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Graph 8: Famine mortality and faminogenic behaviour by decade: 1870-2010

This graph disaggregates famine mortality attributable to the 4 degree of faminogenic behaviour, by decade. 

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Graph 9: Global risk of death from famine: 1870-2010

This graph plots the ratio of global mortality from great famines and the total population of the world, to formulate a very rough estimate of the risk of death from famine, on average, across the world. The trend is downwards, with a sharp decline after the 1960s. 

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Graph 10: Incidents of famine caused by conflict: 1870-2010

This graph plots the total number of famines which can be attributed to war or political repression between 1870-2010. Nearly half of all famines in this period occurred during active armed conflict, 26.23 percent of all famines took place during conditions of active political repression, and 3.28% of famines occurred in countries emerging from conflict. Only 21.31% of famines occurred in countries with no conflict or political repression. 

Download a pdf version of this graph. 

Graph 11: Incidents of faminogenic behaviour

This graph plots the total incidents of 1st to 4th degree faminogenic acts between 1870-2010. In our catalog,  more than half of all great famines (33 instances, or about 54.1 percent) were attributable to second degree faminogenic behaviour. 

Download a pdf version of this graph. 

Graph 12: Incidents of famine attributable to conflict and political repression by decade: 1870-2010

This graph plots (by decade) famines attributable to active armed conflict, political repression, occurring in countries emerging from armed conflict and in countries with no conflict or political repression.

 
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Graph 13: Incidents of faminogenic behaviour by decade: 1870-2010

This graphs plots famines attributable to the different degrees of faminogenic behaviour (i.e. 1st – 4th degree) by decade. 


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 Graph 14: Famine incidents by decade, 1870-2010

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Table 1.1 Historic Famines Dataset

This is a dataset of historic famines and episodes of mass intentional starvation.

It is a working dataset, to be updated as more and better sources become available.

It includes two kinds of overlapping events, which have hitherto largely been studied separately. One set of events is great and catastrophic famines. A famine is defined as a food crisis that causes elevated mortality over a specific period of time. Using the criteria developed by Stephen Devereux (Devereux 2000) for ‘great famines’ (100,000 or more excess deaths) and ‘catastrophic famines’ (one million or more excess deaths), it includes any famine for which the upper estimate of excess deaths falls above 100,000. Using the four-point scale for ‘famine crimes’ developed by David Marcus (Marcus 2003), it also includes episodes of mass intentional starvation. For these events, the threshold is 10,000 deaths by starvation for inclusion in the listing. However, only events of mass intentional starvation that caused over 100,000 deaths are included in the quantitative dataset, on which the graphs are based.

There are major methodological issues with the estimation of excess mortality. Generally speaking, better demographic calculations lead to lower estimations of excess deaths than those provided by journalists and other contemporary observers. We might therefore reasonably expect an upward bias in the figures for earlier famines on the record. On the other hand, contemporary definitions of famine (e.g. Howe and Devereux 2004) provide thresholds for nutrition and mortality that correspond with normal or near-normal conditions in many historic societies (see Ó Gráda 2015, pp. 174-5).

Date

Place

Cause

Deaths

Source

1870-71

Persia

Economic crisis, drought

500,000-1.5 million

Foran 1989, Okasaki 1986

1876-1879

China (Shanxi, Henan, Shandong, Zhili, and Shaanxi)

Drought, lack of state capacity due to rebellion & colonialism

9m

Edgerton-Tarpley, 2008; Fuller, 2015; Davis, 2002; Li, 2007.

1870s

India

Drought, colonialism

6m

Davis, 2002

1876-79

Brazil

Drought, economic crisis

500,000

Cunniff, 1970

1885-99

Congo

Colonialism, forced labor

3m

Hochschild, 1998; Acherson 1999

1888-89

India (Ganjam)

Drought, colonialism

150,000

Dyson, 1989

1888-92

Ethiopia

Drought, war, rinderpest

1m

Pankhurst, 1968

1888-92

Sudan

Drought, war

2m

de Waal, 1989

1891-92

Russia

Drought, economic crisis

275,000

Robbins, 1970

1896-7

India

Drought, colonialism

5.5m

Dyson, 1989

1897-1901

China

Drought, economic crisis, colonial warfare, internal rebellion

1m

Mallory, 1926; Li, 2007; Esherick, 1987; Cohen, 1997.  

1896-1900

Brazil

Drought, economic crisis

1m

Smith, 1946

1899-1901

India

Drought, colonialism

1m

Dyson, 1989

1899-1902

S Africa[1]

Boer War camps

42,000

Carver, 2000

1904-07

Namibia[2]

Genocide

34-110,000

Olusoga and Ericsen, 2011

1905-7

Tanganyika

Repression of rebellion

200,000

Iliffe, 1979

1906-7

India

Drought, colonialism

250,000

Dyson, 1989

1913-14

Sahel

Drought, colonial conquest

125,000

Schove, 1977

1914-16

East Africa

War

300,000

Paice, 2007

1915-18

Greater Syria (including Lebanon)

War, blockade, locusts

350,000

Schilcher, 1992 p.229; Antonius 1946, p.241; Fawaz 2015

 

1915-16

Turkey (Armenians)

Genocide, forced deportation

400,000

Morgenthau, 1918; Gilbert 1994; Suny, 2015; Kevorkian 2011

1917-18

Germany

Blockade

763,000

Vincent, 1985

1917-19

Persia

War, drought

455,200

Afkhami, 2003

1919

Armenia

Post-conflict

200,000

Hovannisian 1971 p. 130

1920-21

China (Henan, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi,

Zhili (Hebei))

Drought, economic crisis

500,000

Mallory, 1926; Fuller, 2013; Peking United International Famine Relief Committee, 1922; Li, 2007

1921-22

Russia

Civil war

1m-10m (5m official)

Lowe 2002; Patenaude 2002, pp. 196-8.

1928-30

China (NW - Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Shandong and Zhili (Hebei))

Drought, War between Chiang Kai-Shek and warlords

5.5m - 10m

Li, 2007, p. 304; Fuller, 2015

1929-30

China (Hunan)

Drought, war

2m

Devereux, 2000; Becker, 1996; Ó Gráda, 2009

1930-31

Libya[3]

Concentration camps

50,000

Baldinetti, 2014

1932-34

USSR (Ukraine)

Collectivization

3.3m

Snyder, 2012

1932-34

USSR (Russia, Kazakhstan)

Collectivization

1.5m

Snyder, 2012

1934, 1936-7

China (Sichuan)

War, economic crisis

5m

Ó Gráda, 2008; Wright, 2000

1941-44

Hunger Plan[4]

 

Germany/USSR

Starvation of Russian POW’s by the Wehrmacht

2.6m

Snyder, 2012

 

Germany/USSR

Siege of Leningrad

1m

Snyder, 2012; Collingham 2012

 

Germany/USSR

Deaths of Soviet Citizens due to starvation in the USSR, including those killed in the occupation of Kiev and Kharkiv

1m

Snyder, 2012

 

Poland

Death of residents of the Warsaw Ghetto from starvation

83,000

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

1941-50

Germany/USSR

Death of German POWs in Soviet captivity

1.1m

World Peace Foundation forthcoming

1941-2

Greece

Blockade

300,000

Mazower, 1993

1942-3

China (Henan)

War

1.5m

Muscolino 2015; Garnaut, 2013

1941-45

East Asia (various locations)

Japanese soldiers who died of malnutrition and starvation

1.044m

Collingham 2012

1942-45

Indonesia

Japanese occupation

2.4m

Van der Eng, 2008

1943

India (Bengal)

Govt wartime policy

2.1m

Dyson & Maharatna, 1991

1943-44

Rwanda

Drought

300,000

Devereux, 2000

1944-45

Vietnam

Japanese occupation

2m

Gunn, 2011

1945-47

Eastern Europe

Reprisals against Germans

250,000

Lowe, 2013

1947

USSR (Moldova and other areas)

Food shortage and policy

600,000-1.5m

Ganson, 2009; Ó Gráda 2015, pp. 12-13.

1958

Ethiopia

Drought

100,000

Wolde Mariam, 1986

1958-62

China

Govt policies

18.5-32m

Ashton et al. 1984; Peng 1987; Ó Gráda 2015, p. 159;

1966

Ethiopia[5]

Drought

50,000

Wolde Mariam, 1986

1969-70

Nigeria

War/blockade

500,000

Leitenberg, 2006

1970-73

Sahel[6]

Drought

0-101,000

de Waal, 1989

1972-73

India (Maharashtra)[7]

Drought

130,000

Dyson 1991; Devereux, 2000

1973

Ethiopia

Drought

200,000

Wolde Mariam, 1986

1974

Bangladesh

Flood, cyclones, economic crisis

1.5m

Alamgir, 1980

1975-78

East Timor

Conflict

104,000

Van Klinken, 2012

1975-9

Cambodia

Year Zero

1.21m

Kiernan, 2008

1983-5

Ethiopia

War, drought

600,000

de Waal, 1997

1984-5

Sudan (Darfur, Kordofan, Red Sea)

Drought, economic crisis

240,000

de Waal, 1989

1988

Sudan (South)

War

100,000

Burr, 1998

1992-3

Somalia

War

220,000

Hansch et al., 1994

1991-1999

Iraq

Sanctions, war and dictatorship

166,000-300,000

Garfield 1999; Ali and Shah 2000.

1995-7

North Korea

Food shortage and govt policy

240,000-600,000

Goodkind et al., 2011; Spoorenberg and Schwekendiek 2012

1998-2002

Democratic Republic of Congo

War

290,500-5.4 million

Roberts et al. 2000, 2001, 2003; Coghlan et al. 2006, 2007.

1998-9

Sudan (South)

War

100,000

Medley, 2010; Burr. 1998

2003-05

Sudan (Darfur)

War

200,000

Government Accountability Office, 2006

2003-06

Uganda

War

100,000

Mazurana et al. 2014

2011

Somalia[8]

Drought, war

164,000

Checchi and Robinson 2013; Maxwell and Nisar, 2015

 

Note

We note that a famine (caused by drought, floods and economic crisis) in Anhui and Jiangsu provinces of China is reported to have resulted in the deaths of 24 million people in 1907 (Kte'pi, 2011) but were unable to find any other sources to corroborate this. Consequently, we have not included this in our famine data. 


[1] We do not include this in our dataset.

[2] We do not include this in our dataset, as the death toll may not have crossed 50,000.

[3] We do not include this in our dataset, as the death toll may not have crossed 50,000.

[4] The ‘Hunger Plan’ includes all episodes of mass starvation associated with the Eastern Front 1941-5, including the starvation of Jews. The total numbers who died of starvation on account of the Hunger Plan and the Final Solution is undoubtedly well in excess of the total in these lines. Starvation deaths in the Warsaw Ghetto are included because it is classified within the Hunger Plan.

[5] We do not include this in our quantitative data.

[6] We do not include this in our quantitative data.

[7] We do not include this in our quantitative data.

[8] We generate our quantitative results on the basis of the episodes of famine between 1870-2010; as a consequence we do not include this episode in our quantitative dataset. 


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