Famine: Causes, Effects, and Remedies – UPSC

In this article, You will read Famine: Causes Effects and Remedies – for UPSC IAS.

Famine: Causes Effects and Remedies

  • Famine is described as the occurrence of prolonged and extreme scarcity of food.
  • It leads to mass mortalities within a short duration.
  • Famine is concentrated in few geographical pockets of the world.
  • Nutritional intake in the condition of famine is less than 2000 calories per day and protein intake is less than 30 gm per day.
  • Famine is the situation where a group of the population faces acute hardship in the minimum availability of food grains for survival. Lack of food grains for survival leads to starvation and hunger deaths.
  • FAO and other international agencies are of the view that the problem of starvation death all over the world is almost solved. But at the same time, Red Cross Society has observed that the large size population of Africa receives food just to survive. Per day intake of food in Africa is less than 30 gm and calorie intake is between 1500-1600 calories. This is a situation which creates a disease-prone or epidemic-prone society that is almost a famine-like situation.
  • Hunger death is a global problem even at present, which is due to the non-availability of food.
  • According to FAO, every day about 24000 persons die due to food shortage, and these deaths are reported in famine-prone areas of the world. Simple food availability does not solve the problem. About 120 crore population of the world is not receiving adequate calorie and protein. They receive calorie less than 2000 per day and protein less than 30 gm per day which creates a permanent hunger-like situation.

Causes of famine

  • Many countries of the world are facing the problem of both open hunger and hidden hunger. The problem has been seen in various parts of the world, but they are sporadic.
  • Regional continuity is problem of Africa. In Africa about 34 countries are facing these problems. Worst affected are the countries of sub Saharan Africa particularly Sudan, Chad, Mauritania, etc. (from Somalia to Sierra Leone and from Djibouti to Lesotho)
  • In Africa only few countries are in good condition like Morocco to Egypt in North Africa, Zaire in Central Africa and South Africa.

Factors of Africa’s famine:

  • Climate uncertainty and society’s total dependency on primary activities:
    • Since 1984, sub-Saharan Africa is under drought, and rapidly the region is changing to hot and dry land. Food availability has worsened.
    • Tanzania, Mozambique and South West African countries have increased frequency of floods and that have caused the famine-like situation. Drought and flood are the natural hazards that are creating famine as a permanent situation in Africa.
  • Poverty:
    • Poor countries have very low purchasing capacity so they are unable to buy from the world market. Some international aid are coming which are providing food only to survive- no protein food is made available.
    • International aid is not based on standard medical norms. Large population is living below $1.25 per day income (as per HDR 2009) [see image]
    • Per capita income is not enough to provide food. Once the crop fails, the income system collapses.
    • Since 1984, food shortage, famine, hunger, starvation has become the culture of Africa.
Factors of Africa’s famine
  • Tribal culture:
    • Many tribes are a wandering society. They instead of settling at a site for development, wander.
    • Tribal groups are unable to realise international boundaries. Tribal groups are also responsible for state rivalry. E.g. Rwanda-Burundi, Uganda-Kenya. Such rivalry causes the problem of refugee and displaced persons. These persons depend completely on aid.
    • Tribal groups are also creating problems in food distribution. Tribal groups loot and hoard the government food.
  • Lack of government’s effort to transform agriculture. This drought situation in Africa has persisted from long time. The government hasn’t taken any program to counter it.
  • Food politics: developed countries or food suppliers do not provide food without political bargaining. International aids are not medically good (maize, wheat and some oilseeds)
  • Famine in Africa is not only due to natural factors but also due to human factors. All play a more than equal role.
South Asia:
  • Although South Asia received Green Revolution in many parts, inspite of that there are famine situations in many parts. Factors are:
  • Drought and Floods:
    • Natural calamities create famine-type situations in many parts. Bangladesh is worst effect by floods, while Nepal by floods and landslides. India, Pakistan and Afghanistan are affected by floods, landslides and earthquakes.
    • However, the problem of South Asia is of regional continuity. There was a similar problem up to the drought of 1966. Thereafter there have been government efforts to solve the problem.
    • Green Revolution has taken place at many parts and famine is at micro level.
  • Low income and inadequate transformation of economy: India and Bangladesh have populations below $1.25 per day with the percentage of 42% and 50% respectively. Sri Lanka and the Maldives are better off. The problem not is as in Africa but large size of the population is still facing the problem.
  • Social factors: “Famine is a social problem of South Asia”- Amartya Sen. According to FAO, in this part SC and ST are the worst sufferers groups. SC and ST are landless people. Once the crops fail landless workers are the worst affected.
  • Family famine situation:
    • In Bangladesh according to Amratya Sen, the crop is lost due to floods which reduce the income of a family, which leads to their exploitation by moneylenders. Thus, the family is compelled for limited food intake till the next cropping season.
    • Worst sufferers are the mothers in the family. Kids are the first getters but they are malnourished and the remaining money is spent on medications.
    • Male members get the food and mothers get the remaining food. Thus, female mortality is high and sex ratio is low.
  • Political and strategic factors: These factors lead to political tensions. Due to these factors, people are compelled to live tent life. E.g. Herat province of Afghanistan, the Afghan war, Chakma tribe migration to India, Kashmir refugee, etc.
  • Public distribution system is not effective: When Public distribution system is not effective, food does not reach to its target. It leads to the development of the culture of famine for socially neglected and displaced persons.
Central and Andean America:
  • From Chile to Dominican Republic, countries like Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago are better off. The factors for famine in these countries are:
    • Natural hazards, climatic uncertainty
    • Tribal society which are not much involved in economy
    • Lack of alternate economy.
  • The famine regions are specific. Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador are the worst affected countries.
South East Asia:
  • The famine-affected countries in South East Asia includes- Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, East Timor, South Sumatra.
  • The factors for famine in these countries are:
    • Drought and floods- In Indonesia, even volcanoes and earthquakes
    • Lack of agricultural development programmes
    • Poverty
Eastern and northern Asia:
  • This is the area of drought and famine. The worst affected country is North Korea which witnessed the worst drought in 1996. A large number of the population is affected by poverty in these countries.
  • China, North Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, South, and Central China has seasonal famine mainly due to floods.
  • Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, south Siberia are often disturbed by drought and sleet fall.
  • Steppe and chestnut regions of Russia are having fertile soil, but the drought is a problem.
daily supply of calories

Effects of famine

  • This hunger and famine has regional and global impact. It is creating an undernourished, epidemics and disease prone society.
  • Nearly 20% of the world population is facing the problem which may lead to the genetic degradation of mankind. So, genetic scientists have also shown concerns to large scale survival of ill health society. These people easy come under money lenders, debt trap, the problem of landless labour, child labour, bonded labour, etc.
  • There are political, social and community tensions. War like situation emerges between neighbouring countries. It further aggravates the poverty situation which increases mortality.
  • It leads to still births, underweight and undernourished delivery of babies. According to a UNICEF report of 1996, in Bangladesh, about 67% of babies born are underweight, in India 53%, Ethopia-48%, Nigeria-36%, Tanzania-29%.
  • Ethiopia has the lowest per capita calorie intake per day (1600 cal), USA has 3600 cal.
  • Famine creates multidimensional problems for the society. Social and administrative mismanagement occurs.

Remedies for the famine problem

  • There is a need to have global effort to solve the problem
  • Agriculture development: most of the sufferer countries are agrarian countries. They need to take a lesson from the countries like India, Pakistan. Most of the sub-Saharan countries need to improve irrigation and watershed management.
  • To create alternate economy: it was first emphasised in 1863 Famine Commission Report on India. It gave a two-dimensional approach to solve the problem:
    • Agriculture development by developing irrigation
      • Revival of some old canal-like Sirhind canal
      • Many Anicuts were developed
    • Revival of India’s traditional alternative economies like cottage industries and livestock.
  • To provide relief operations for immediate help to suffering groups, international trade of food should be rationalized. Its shipment should be based on humanitarian grounds. Food politics should be avoided. Global hunger is due to three factors- social, economic and political. As Amartya Sen observes “While drought and other naturally occurring events may trigger famine conditions, it is government action or inaction that determines its severity, and often even whether or not famine will occur.”
  • These countries need to improve their PDS so that all can get access to food. China has very effective PDS. Others should learn from China.
  • There should be international cooperation for forecasting natural hazards, flood control, drought control etc.
  • Famine affected countries are not technically advanced so developed countries should provide them support
  • Population control measures should also be taken. Countries which have controlled population growth have also controlled famine.
  • Social development is needed like literacy, education development
  • Some international organizations like Red Cross, UNICEF, World Bank, NGOs should take an active part in famine eradication
  • Other remedies:
    • Need of relief policy
    • Maintenance of buffer stock
    • Proper agro-climatic planning
    • Use of modern and scientific methods such as remote sensing, GIS to accurately locate the crisis point.
  • UNO Board on food and nutrition, FAO, WHO- all are concerned that foods are not needed only for life-saving but to provide better health.
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