Famine - Causes and Effects


Famine is an extreme and prolonged state of hunger in a considerable proportion of masses of a country or a region that results in widespread and acute malnutrition and death by starvation or diseases due to the inadequacy of food and nutrition. Famine in a literal sense indicates extreme inadequacy and the scarcity of food and nutrition. It is a phenomenon that occurs in a vast terrestrial area due to different environmental and biological reasons. Famines may range from a few weeks to a few years in a community. The major factors that lead to famine in today’s world are population imbalance, lack of rainfall causing scarcity of freshwater, crop failure, government policies, and so on.

Conditions Leading to Famine

Famines are lurking in the community from olden times. Even in ancient times as a result of war or epidemic masses have faced famine and bore the consequences of it. It has affected populations across the world. Many famines in history have precipitated from natural causes like drought flooding, unseasonable cold, typhoons, Cyclones, vermin depredations, insect infestations, and plant diseases. However, some famines were a result of social causes like population explosion leading to food shortages that extended into malnutrition, starvation, and widespread diseases, feudal social systems, etc.

Characteristics of a Famine

A Famine is characterized by the following factors:

  • Severe food shortage triggered causes like conflict, drought, crop failure, demographic disequilibrium, governmental policies, and so on.

  • Widespread death dues to diseases, starvation, and scarcity of food.

  • Malnutrition and other deficiency diseases plaguing a huge amount of population.

  • Crop failure leading to a nationwide scarcity of food.

  • Poverty with various social disorganization consequences that include overcrowding, the break-up of hygiene, escalated vermin, failure to bury the deceased, and unregulated population growth and/or camp advancement that support the occurrence of epidemics and diseases.

Famines in India

India is a developing nation with its economy and population majorly dependent on agriculture. Although various advancements in the field of agriculture have improved its quality it is still primarily dependent on climatic conditions. For example- Rain during summer is crucial for the process of irrigation in agriculture. Lack of rainfall leads to a lack of proper irrigation and the failure of crops. Thus, these consequences lead to famines. Many such conditions like lack of rainfall or drought had led to several famines in India 11th to 17th Century. The most severely recorded famines in India are as follows:

  • The famine of 1943 in Bengal.

  • The famine of 1783 in Chalisa.

  • The famine of 1770 in Great Bengal.

  • Skull Famine of 1791.

  • The famine of 1866 in Orissa.

  • The famine of 1630 in Deccan.

  • The famine of 1873 in Deccan.

  • The famine of 1837 in Agra.

Widespread scarcity of food was caused as a result of these great famines. This also led to many deaths across the country. The most serious of all these famines was the famine of 1770 in Great Bengal that caused around 10 million deaths, skull famine of 1791 caused about 11 million deaths and Chalisa famine of 1783 also caused 11 million deaths on an average.

Causes of Famines

The occurrence of famines mainly was recorded to be caused as a result of natural causes that include the after-effects of flood, cyclone, storms, or droughts due to scarcity of rainfall, earthquake, leading to crop failure and agricultural degradation. floods and earthquakes destroy crops or food storage places resulting in scarcity of food and thus leading to famine.

Human Intervention

The man-made causes of famine include lack of food due to inefficient agricultural processes, resulting in crop failure. Or, no proper storage of crops that lead to large scale loss of harvested crops or infestation by rodents.

It is also caused by the improper distribution of food in some of the regions.

Contamination of water bodies or air that hampers the crop production and may also make it impossible for crops to grow in such regions.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What are the Effects of Famine?

Ans. Starvation is a continuous scarcity of food among the population or the people of a specific region. Famine causes starvation on a mass scale. Famine also leads to the occurrence of diseases in the human body like cholera. Cholera is caused by a bacterium and it includes symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, dry, mucous membranes, mouth, and skin, excessive thirst, and lethargy. It causes edema of the skin which is characterized by excessive fluid under the skin and swelling of the body. Poor sanitation, contaminated food and water and crowded living conditions lead to dysentery is another bacterial disease that spreads through water, stool, and food. Anemia is also another notable condition characterized by low levels of hemoglobin. All of these and many other diseases and disorders are a result of famine. Along with these grave diseases, famines also lower fertility rates, give rise to poor living conditions, fewer income options, various socio - political issues, etc.

2. How to Prevent Famine?

Ans. It is difficult to control and impossible to eradicate famine as it is mostly caused by natural reasons, however the effects of famine can be prevented by certain measures. These include:

  • Encouraging surplus agricultural production beyond the requirements of the rural population.

  • A well-developed transportation system between urban and rural areas. Connectivity of urban and rural areas play an important role in the prevention of famine.

  • Ensuring proper health care, clean drinking water, and sanitation facilities for the prevention and spread of diseases.