What Is A Famine, And Will They Become More Common In Years To Come?

Famines see the health of the masses decline as widespread food scarcity reaches drastically devastating levels.

Causes and Effects of Famine

A famine is a phenomenon involving the catastrophic disruption of food production, distribution, and/or consumption in a society, leading to severe undernourishment of the human population therein. This often leads to widespread deaths due to starvation and other undernutrition-related causes. Famine in the natural world is usually triggered by the growth of population beyond the regional carrying capacity. However, in the case of human society, the source of famine is highly complex, and often involves a combination of natural and man-made factors triggering the low availability of food and nutrition. Natural factors responsible for famine include floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and other natural calamities. Anthropogenic factors such as warfare and poor resource management by governments might also result in. or otherwise worsen, famines. Famines result in a significant fall in the human population affected by such phenomena. Young children and the elderly are the worst affected sections of the population in times of famine, while adult women of child-bearing age are often the least affected. Why men die faster than women during a famine has often baffled scientists. It is possible that the greater natural ability of women to resist malnutrition and sustain themselves on fall-back famine foods could be responsible for their better survival during famines.

Major Famines Since Ancient Times

Over the centuries, major famines all across the world have claimed the lives of millions of people. For example, exploitative British policies combined with crop failures and drought resulted in the Bengal Famine of 1770, which claimed the lives of nearly 10 million people in the region, while the nearby Chalisa famine of North India in 1783, itself caused by severe drought in the region, left 11 million dead. Another major famine of past times, the Great Famine of Ireland, claimed the lives of nearly 1.5 million Irish between 1845 and 1853. Potato blight disease and British apathy towards the famine-stricken Irish were major factors triggering such a disaster.

Modern Famines

Due to the rapid growth of human populations in recent decades, famines have become more severe, and the death tolls resulting from these disasters have also risen considerably. The first half of the 20th Century witnessed several major famines, including the Chinese Famine of 1907, which left nearly 25 million people dead, the Russian Famine of 1921 which claimed 5 million lives, the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933, which killed nearly 10 million people, and the concurrent Great Chinese Famine of 1932-1933, which astonishingly claimed nearly 43 million lives. The latter two famines were the result of inefficient communist policies which led to the loss of privately owned farming lands by farmers, and the enforcement of inefficient practices related to collective farming experiments, leading to poor crop production and lack of food on national scales. Two major famines of the middle of the 20th Century were the Bengal Famine of 1943, killing 7 million Bengalis, and the Vietnamese Famine of 1945, killing 2 million Vietnamese. Both of these famines occurred in the backdrop of the World War II, and the Japanese occupiers' apathy, together with nature’s wrath in the form of floods and droughts, triggered these famines. The last major famine of the 20th Century was the North Korean Famine, lasting between 1994 and 1998, which resulted in the deaths of 3 million people. In the 21st Century era, famine continues to be a worldwide problem, especially in Sub-Saharan African countries. Though the recent African famines have resulted in high child mortality rates, severe malnourishment, and impoverishment, the death toll of these famines have yet to come close to the major famines of 20th Century Asia. The worst famine in Africa to date was the 1983–1985 Famine in Ethiopia, with that event killing nearly 400,000 Africans.

Famine Relief Systems In Place Today

Several famine relief and warning systems have been established by government and non-governmental systems across the world, especially since the formation of the United Nations and other multilateral organizations following the conclusion of World War II. Food security gradation methods are often applied to understand the food security status prevailing in a region so that early warnings of famine might be provided. The earliest models of such systems, the Indian Famine Codes, were devised by the British to prevent the famines in what was British India, and included a three stage (1. near scarcity, 2. scarcity, and 3. famine) categorization of food security. The advent of technology to produce high-yielding crop varieties allowed for a higher production of crops worldwide, and ushered in the Green Revolution in the 1960s. Many believed the Green Revolution would be the answer to solve world food crisis. However, others do not prefer this method, as it demands a high amount of fertilizers and pesticides to grow crops. Currently, the World Food Program and the U.S. Agency for International Development use sophisticated techniques to measure the food security problems of the world, and have devised a 5-level scale that measures both the magnitude (in terms of geographic scope and numbers of people affected) and intensity of famines.

Future Threats of Famine

As per current estimates, the world population is expected to grow to 9.2 billion in 2050. Thus, the global demand for food is also expected to expand significantly in the coming years. However, resource scarcity is the major greatest threat to the world in the near future. Today, the freshwater resources of our planet are already in danger due to high rates of pollution, volume losses due to evaporation, and high levels of sedimentation. It is difficult under such circumstances to understand how the world will have enough fresh water to irrigate the crop fields of the future, or even meet people's basic needs for drinking water. Climate change worsens the situation by increasing the chances for future floods and droughts, depending upon the region and time of year, each of which are capable of damaging cultivation spaces and consequently trigger future famines.

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