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Famine - Causes and Effects

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Famine - Introduction

MVSAT 2024

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 due to diseases, starvation, and scarcity of food.

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

  • Crop failure led to a nationwide scarcity of food.

  • Poverty with various social disorganization consequences 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, the skull famine of 1791 caused about 11 million deaths and the Chalisa famine of 1783 also caused 11 million deaths on 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 hampers crop production and may also make it impossible for crops to grow in such regions.

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FAQs on Famine - Causes and Effects

1. What are the Effects of Famine?

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?

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.

3. What is a famine?

A famine is a period of severe food scarcity brought on by a variety of circumstances such as war, natural disasters, crop failure, population imbalance, widespread poverty, an economic calamity, or government policy. Regional hunger, starvation, epidemics, and increased mortality are generally accompanied or followed by this occurrence. Every inhabited continent on the planet has experienced starvation at some point in its history. Southeast and South Asia, as well as Eastern and Central Europe, were often classified in the 19th and 20th centuries as having suffered the greatest number of deaths from starvation. Since the 2000s, the number of people dying from famine has steadily decreased. Since 2010, Africa has been the world's most afflicted continent.

The World Food Programme warned on November 8, 2021, that 45 million people in 43 nations were on the verge of famine. Afghanistan had surpassed Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, and even Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe, with the country's demands outstripping those of the other worst-affected countries.

4. What happened during the famines in British India?

Severe famines became more common in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Millions died in 24 major famines between 1850 and 1899, more than in any other 50-year span. These famines in British India were severe enough to have a significant impact on the country's long-term population growth, particularly between 1871 and 1921. The first, the Bengal famine of 1770, is thought to have killed over a third of the region's population—roughly 10 million people.

East India Company revenues from Bengal fell to £174,300 in 1770–71 as a result of the famine. As a result, the East India Company's stock price plummeted. The corporation was compelled to take out a £1 million loan from the Bank of England in order to cover the annual military expenditure, which ranged from £60,000 to £1 million. Later attempts were made to prove that the famine had had no effect on net revenue, but this was only feasible because the collection had been "violently held up to its old standard." Between 1765 and 1858, the 1901 Famine Commission discovered twelve famines and four "serious scarcities."

5. What were the causes of famines during the British rule in India?

Uneven rainfall and British economic and administrative policies also contributed to the famines. Rack-renting, levies for war, free trade policies, the rise of export agriculture, and the neglect of agricultural investment are among the policies linked. Opium, rice, wheat, indigo, jute, and cotton exports from India were crucial to the British empire's economy, providing vital foreign cash, particularly from China, and stabilizing low grain prices in the British market. Export crops, according to Mike Davis, displaced millions of acres that could have been used for domestic subsistence, making Indians more vulnerable to food emergencies. Others argue that exports were not a major cause of the famine, claiming that commerce did have a minor stabilizing effect on India's food consumption.

One such famine was the Odisha famine of 1866–1867, which later expanded across the Madras Presidency to Hyderabad and Mysore. The famine of 1866 was a devastating episode in Odisha's history, with about a third of the population dying. The famine left 1,553 orphans, whose guardians were to receive 3 rupees each month until their children reached the age of 17 for boys and 16 for girls. The western Ganges area, Rajasthan, central India (1868–1870), Bengal and eastern India (1873–1874), Deccan (1876–78), and the Ganges region, Madras, Hyderabad, Mysore, and Bombay (1876–1878) all experienced similar famines.  The Great Famine of 1876–1878 prompted a huge movement of agricultural laborers and artisans from southern India to British tropical possessions, where they labored as indentured laborers on plantations.

6. How did the British respond to the famines in India?

The Bengal Famine of 1770 was the first big famine to occur under British control. In a ten-month period, about a quarter to a third of Bengal's population died of starvation. Even though the famine was not caused by the British colonial authority, the East India Company's tax increases coincided with and aggravated it. "Successive British governments were anxious not to add to the burden of taxation" after the famine. In 1866, the rains failed once more in Bengal and Odisha. Laissez-faire policies were implemented, and the famine in Bengal was partially alleviated.

7. How did policies influence the famines in British India?

The non-interference of the government in the grain market, even during famines, shows how Adam Smith's theories affected the British famine policy in India. Another major issue in defining famine policy was keeping famine aid as low as possible, with the least amount of expenditure to the colonial exchequer. Another possible influence on British policy on famine in India, according to Brian Murton, a geography professor at the University of Hawaii, was the English Poor Laws of 1834, with the difference that the English were willing to "maintain" the poor in England in normal times, whereas Indians would only receive subsistence when entire populations were threatened. There are parallels between the Irish famine of 1846–49 and the later Indian famines of the late nineteenth century. You can access the Vedantu app and website for free study materials.

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