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FAMINE IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

IDS WORKING PAPER 105


Stephen Devereux
E-mail: S.G.Devereux@ids.ac.uk

For more details on IDS work on food security in southern Africa, visit the IDS website: http://www.ids.ac.uk


Posted with permission of the author
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Summary

More than 70 million people died in famines during the 20th century. This paper compiles excess mortality estimates from over 30 major famines and assesses the success of some parts of the world - China, the Soviet Union and, more recently, India and Bangladesh - in apparently eradicating mass mortality food crises. This is contrasted with the experience of sub-Saharan Africa, where famines precipitated by adverse synergies between natural triggers (drought) and political crises (civil war) have become endemic since the late 1960s. The paper also examines the evolving discourse around famine causation during the century, and finds that despite a proliferation of demographic, economic and political theories, each embodies the reductionist perspective of disciplinary specialisation. The paper concludes by arguing that if famine is to be completely eradicated during the 21st century this requires not just technical (food production and distribution) capacity but substantially more political will, at national and international levels, than has been evident to date.


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