Famine Research

The End of Famine?

In the seven decades since World War II, the numbers of people who die from famines fell spectacularly. The drumbeat of 10 million starving every decade  faded to a small fraction of that toll, and the near-elimination of famine mortality is one of the great achievements of our time. Today, however, the global decline in famines and famine deaths has suddenly halted and is being reversed. The increase is not due to climate or natural disaster; it is driven by war, blockade, hostility to humanitarian principles, and a volatile global economy. This WPF research project, led by Alex de Waal, presents a history of modern famines: their causes, dimensions, and why they ended. Through our ground-breaking dataset on famine trends and analysis, starvation is revealed as a crime and an instrument of genocide and war. Political decision or political failing is an essential element in every famine, while the spread of democracy and human rights, and the ending of wars, were major factors in the near-ending of this devastating phenomenon. 

The Program includes:

Alex de Waal’s book, Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine (Polity Books, Fall 2017 [UK] Winter 2018 [US]), details how the world almost conquered famine. Available through Polity Books.

The Famine Trends dataset (updated 5 April 2017) includes great famines, defined as a food crisis that causes elevated mortality over a specific period of time for which the upper estimates of excess death exceed 100,000, and episodes of mass intentional starvation between 1870 and 2010.  This is a dataset of historic famines and episodes of mass intentional starvation.