Twentieth century famines


Famine mortality
May 13th 2013, 16:15 by
A history of global famine deaths
EARLIER this month the United Nations estimated that 258,000 people died in the Somalia famine between October 2010 and April 2012. The number of deaths caused widespread shock and the proportion—4.6% of the population—was shockingly high. According to Stephen Devereux, an economist at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, famine deaths rarely exceed 2-3% of a country’s population. But the absolute death toll was not especially high by recent historical measures. Mr Devereux reckons that in 35 big famines since 1900, more than 70m people have died from famine or famine-related causes. Of these, almost half perished in one terrible event: China’s Great Leap Forward of 1958-62, which caused famine deaths of over 30m (the chart assigns half of this to each decade). Another quarter died during Stalin’s forced collectivisation of the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s (especially in Ukraine and Kazakhstan). The other huge famine was that in Bengal in 1943. Since these countries have transformed their food security, famine mortality has declined over the past century and shifted from Asia to, almost exclusively, Africa. Political crises have triggered famines in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1960s, including those in Ethiopia in 1983-85 and Sudan in 1998. The rains failed throughout the Horn of Africa in 2010-12, but famine deaths were concentrated in Somalia, where the government was weakest.


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