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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1989
  • Online publication date: May 2010

5 - Famine


In recent years the subject of famine has been greatly sensationalised by the media. This chapter nevertheless attempts to approach the subject in an objective, academic manner. It stresses the importance of never under-estimating the nutritional complexities of the Third World and the long-term political, social, economic and technical developments that will be needed to avert the threat of famine which is always just over the horizon in the great majority of Third World countries.

The acute crisis

I shall not attempt to discuss modern famines within a historical perspective. It would have been intellectually attractive to ponder upon, say, the Biblical Famine, now ascribed the date of 1708 BC, in Genesis, Chapter 41, or perhaps on the West Bengal famine of AD 1770, or the more recent one of 1943. The potato famine of 1845 in Ireland would have provided equally good academic mileage, though the Africa famines in Nigeria of 1968 associated with the Biafran Civil War, or those of Ethiopia and the Sahelian region as a whole in 1972, 1978 and 1984–5 might have been of more immediate interest, but I am not going to discuss any of these famines.

My primary reason for not concentrating on such crisis situations is that it might reinforce the belief that the single catastrophic events which occurred on these dates, for example seven years of crop failure starting in 1708 BC in the Middle East or the peak of the drought in AD 1984 in Ethiopia, were the primary causes of these famines.