Famine Trends

The End of Famine?


The Famine Trends dataset (updated April 29, 2016) 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 2015.

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 writings on famine on the WPF blog, Reinventing Peace.

 

Tables and Graphs

 

 

Famine and Mortality by decade: 1870 - 2015 (pdf)

This graph plots worldwide famine mortality between 1870 and 2015, by decade.

Famines and episodes of forcible mass starvation have killed 116.6 million people since 1870. The main trend, however, is downwards. In each decade between the 1870s and the 1970s, great famines killed between 3 million and 25 million, at an average of just over 1 million per year. The last calamitous famine was Cambodia in 1975-79. Since 1980, the annual death toll in great famines has averaged 53,000, or about 5 per cent of the historic level.

  

World Population Growth and Death Toll from Great Famines: 1900-2015 (pdf)

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

Famine Mortality by Region and Decade: 1870 - 2015

Late colonialism/imperial era (1870s to the early years of the 20th century): Famines struck in the emergent ‘third world’, largely as a result of forcible integration into the global-imperial economy in a subordinate position.

Total war and totalitarianism: A second era of famines spans the two World Wars and include the largest episodes of forcible mass starvation—famine as genocide; these were famines of civil war (Russia and China especially), of wars of annihilation (notably the Eastern Front in World War Two), and of totalitarianism (notably in the USSR). They took place chiefly in Eurasia and East and South-east Asia.

East-Asian Communism: The third era is the Communist famines of East Asia, overwhelmingly in China but also in Cambodia, from the 1950s to the 1970s.

In the current era, great and calamitous famines have dropped to near zero, but for the first time, the main location of these famines is Africa.

Regional Distribution of Famine Deaths: 1870 - 2015

88 percent of famine deaths in the period took place in Europe and Asia. Approximately half of these (60.5 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 25.5 million.  African famine deaths during the entire period are estimated at 11.9 million, most of them in the late 19th century. Latin America counted about 1.5 million famine deaths, all of them in Brazil in the 19th century. The Middle East has an estimated 750,000 deaths, all associated with World War One and including deaths from hunger during the Armenian genocide.

Famine Mortality Associated with Armed Conflict and Political Repression: 1870 - 2015

War, dictatorship and genocide have caused 74.1 percent of the episodes of famine and 77.7 percent of the mortality in great and calamitous famines, rising to 77.8 percent and 86.7 respectively if countries emerging from armed conflict are included.

 

Famine Deaths and Faminogenic Behavior: 1870 - 2015 (pdf)

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 8.24 million people, 7.07 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 76.7 million, nearly 66 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 19.7 million, nearly 17 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 12 million, 10.29 percent.

Famine Deaths and Faminogenic Behavior: 1870 - 2015

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. 


Table 1.1 Historic Famines Dataset

Date

Place

Cause

Deaths

Source

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, 2001; 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

5m

Hochschild, 1998

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

Boer War camps

42,000

Carver, 2000

1904-07

Namibia[1]

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

1916-18

Greater Syria (including Lebanon)

War

350,000

Schilcher, 1992; Antonius 1965

 

1917-22

Turkey (Armenians)

Genocide, forced deportation

400,000

Morgenthau, 1918; Gilbert 1994; Suny, 1998

1917-18

Germany

Blockade

763,000

Vincent, 1985

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

9m

Moskoff, 1990

1928-30

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

Drought, War between Chiang Kai-Shek and warlords

10m

Li, 2007; Fuller, 2015

1929-30

China (Hunan)

Drought, war

2m

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

1930-31

Libya[2]

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

1940-41

Germany/USSR

PoWs

1.25m

Snyder, 2012

1940-44

Germany/USSR

Siege

641,000

Snyder, 2012

1940-44

Germany/USSR

Hunger Plan

4.2m

Snyder, 2012

1940-45

Poland

Nazi occupation

3m

Snyder, 2012

1941-2

Greece

Blockade

300,000

Mazower, 1993

1942-3

China (Henan)

War

1.5m

Muscolino 2015; Garnaut, 2013

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

Drought

50,000

Wolde Mariam, 1986

1969-70

Nigeria

War/blockade

1m

Leitenberg, 2006

1970-73

Sahel[3]

Drought

0-101,000

de Waal, 1989

1972-73

India (Maharashtra)

Drought

70,000

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

1.75m

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

1995-7

North Korea

Food shortage and govt policy

240,000-600,000

Goodkind et al., 2011; Spoorenberg and Schwekendiek 2012

1998-9

Sudan (South)

War

100,000

Medley, 2010; Burr. 1998

2003-05

Sudan (Darfur)

War

200,000

Government Accountability Office, 2006

2011

Somalia

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. 

 

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

[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 quantitative data.