The Famine Trends dataset includes two kinds of overlapping events, which have hitherto largely been studied separately. One set of events is great and catastrophic famines. A famine is defined as a food crisis that causes elevated mortality over a specific period of time. Using the criteria developed by Stephen Devereux (Devereux 2000) for ‘great famines’ (100,000 or more excess deaths) and ‘catastrophic famines’ (one million or more excess deaths), it includes any famine for which the upper estimate of excess deaths falls above 100,000. Using the four-point scale for ‘famine crimes’ developed by David Marcus (Marcus 2003), it also includes episodes of mass intentional starvation. For these events, the threshold is 10,000 deaths by starvation for inclusion in the listing. However, only events of mass intentional starvation that caused over 100,000 deaths are included in the quantitative dataset, on which the graphs are based.
There are major methodological issues with the estimation of excess mortality. Generally speaking, better demographic calculations lead to lower estimations of excess deaths than those provided by journalists and other contemporary observers. We might therefore reasonably expect an upward bias in the figures for earlier famines on the record. On the other hand, contemporary definitions of famine (e.g. Howe and Devereux 2004) provide thresholds for nutrition and mortality that correspond with normal or near-normal conditions in many historic societies (see Ó Gráda 2015, pp. 174-5).
For more discussion of the data, see Alex de Waal, “Armed Conflict and the Challenge of Hunger: Is an End in Sight?” in The 2015 Global Hunger Index (Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide). See also de Waal’s posts on famine on the WPF blog, Reinventing Peace. His upcoming publication Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine (Polity Books, Fall 2017 [UK] Winter 2018 [US]) is partially based on this dataset, will explore the history of modern famines: their causes, dimensions, and why they ended.
Tables and Graphs
|1870-71||Persia||Economic crisis, drought||500,000-1.5 million||Foran 1989, Okasaki 1986|
|1876-1879||China (Shanxi, Henan, Shandong, Zhili, and Shaanxi)||Drought, lack of state capacity due to rebellion & colonialism||9m||Edgerton-Tarpley, 2008; Fuller, 2015; Davis, 2002; Li, 2007.|
|1870s||India||Drought, colonialism||6m||Davis, 2002|
|1876-79||Brazil||Drought, economic crisis||500,000||Cunniff, 1970|
|1885-99||Congo||Colonialism, forced labor||3m||Hochschild, 1998; Acherson 1999|
|1888-89||India (Ganjam)||Drought, colonialism||150,000||Dyson, 1989|
|1888-92||Ethiopia||Drought, war, rinderpest||1m||Pankhurst, 1968|
|1888-92||Sudan||Drought, war||2m||de Waal, 1989|
|1891-92||Russia||Drought, economic crisis||275,000||Robbins, 1970|
|1896-7||India||Drought, colonialism||5.5m||Dyson, 1989|
|1897-1901||China||Drought, economic crisis, colonial warfare, internal rebellion||1m||Mallory, 1926; Li, 2007; Esherick, 1987; Cohen, 1997.|
|1896-1900||Brazil||Drought, economic crisis||1m||Smith, 1946|
|1899-1901||India||Drought, colonialism||1m||Dyson, 1989|
|1899-1902||S Africa||Boer War camps||42,000||Carver, 2000|
|1904-07||Namibia||Genocide||34-110,000||Olusoga and Ericsen, 2011|
|1905-7||Tanganyika||Repression of rebellion||200,000||Iliffe, 1979|
|1906-7||India||Drought, colonialism||250,000||Dyson, 1989|
|1913-14||Sahel||Drought, colonial conquest||125,000||Schove, 1977|
|1914-16||East Africa||War||300,000||Paice, 2007|
|1915-18||Greater Syria (including Lebanon)||War, blockade, locusts||350,000||Schilcher, 1992 p.229; Antonius 1946, p.241; Fawaz 2015
|1915-16||Turkey (Armenians)||Genocide, forced deportation||400,000||Morgenthau, 1918; Gilbert 1994; Suny, 2015; Kevorkian 2011|
|1917-19||Persia||War, drought||455,200||Afkhami, 2003|
|1919||Armenia||Post-conflict||200,000||Hovannisian 1971 p. 130|
|1920-21||China (Henan, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi,
|Drought, economic crisis||500,000||Mallory, 1926; Fuller, 2013; Peking United International Famine Relief Committee, 1922; Li, 2007|
|1921-22||Russia||Civil war||1m-10m (5m official)||Lowe 2002; Patenaude 2002, pp. 196-8.|
|1928-30||China (NW – Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Henan, Shandong and Zhili (Hebei))||Drought, War between Chiang Kai-Shek and warlords||5.5m – 10m||Li, 2007, p. 304; Fuller, 2015|
|1929-30||China (Hunan)||Drought, war||2m||Devereux, 2000; Becker, 1996; Ó Gráda, 2009|
|1930-31||Libya||Concentration camps||50,000||Baldinetti, 2014|
|1932-34||USSR (Ukraine)||Collectivization||3.3m||Snyder, 2012|
|1932-34||USSR (Russia, Kazakhstan)||Collectivization||1.5m||Snyder, 2012|
|1934, 1936-7||China (Sichuan)||War, economic crisis||5m||Ó Gráda, 2008; Wright, 2000|
|Germany/USSR||Starvation of Russian POW’s by the Wehrmacht||2.6m||Snyder, 2012|
|Germany/USSR||Siege of Leningrad||1m||Snyder, 2012; Collingham 2012|
|Germany/USSR||Deaths of Soviet Citizens due to starvation in the USSR, including those killed in the occupation of Kiev and Kharkiv||1m||Snyder, 2012|
|Poland||Death of residents of the Warsaw Ghetto from starvation||83,000||United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.|
|1941-50||Germany/USSR||Death of German POWs in Soviet captivity||1.1m||World Peace Foundation forthcoming|
|1942-3||China (Henan)||War||1.5m||Muscolino 2015; Garnaut, 2013|
|1941-45||East Asia (various locations)||Japanese soldiers who died of malnutrition and starvation||1.044m||Collingham 2012|
|1942-45||Indonesia||Japanese occupation||2.4m||Van der Eng, 2008|
|1943||India (Bengal)||Govt wartime policy||2.1m||Dyson & Maharatna, 1991|
|1944-45||Vietnam||Japanese occupation||2m||Gunn, 2011|
|1945-47||Eastern Europe||Reprisals against Germans||250,000||Lowe, 2013|
|1947||USSR (Moldova and other areas)||Food shortage and policy||600,000-1.5m||Ganson, 2009; Ó Gráda 2015, pp. 12-13.|
|1958||Ethiopia||Drought||100,000||Wolde Mariam, 1986|
|1958-62||China||Govt policies||18.5-32m||Ashton et al. 1984; Peng 1987; Ó Gráda 2015, p. 159;|
|1966||Ethiopia||Drought||50,000||Wolde Mariam, 1986|
|1970-73||Sahel||Drought||0-101,000||de Waal, 1989|
|1972-73||India (Maharashtra)||Drought||130,000||Dyson 1991; Devereux, 2000|
|1973||Ethiopia||Drought||200,000||Wolde Mariam, 1986|
|1974||Bangladesh||Flood, cyclones, economic crisis||1.5m||Alamgir, 1980|
|1975-78||East Timor||Conflict||104,000||Van Klinken, 2012|
|1975-9||Cambodia||Year Zero||1.21m||Kiernan, 2008|
|1983-5||Ethiopia||War, drought||600,000||de Waal, 1997|
|1984-5||Sudan (Darfur, Kordofan, Red Sea)||Drought, economic crisis||240,000||de Waal, 1989|
|1988||Sudan (South)||War||100,000||Burr, 1998|
|1992-3||Somalia||War||220,000||Hansch et al., 1994|
|1991-1999||Iraq||Sanctions, war and dictatorship||166,000-300,000||Garfield 1999; Ali and Shah 2000.|
|1995-7||North Korea||Food shortage and govt policy||240,000-600,000||Goodkind et al., 2011; Spoorenberg and Schwekendiek 2012|
|1998-2002||Democratic Republic of Congo||War||290,500-5.4 million||Roberts et al. 2000, 2001, 2003; Coghlan et al. 2006, 2007.|
|1998-9||Sudan (South)||War||100,000||Medley, 2010; Burr. 1998|
|2003-05||Sudan (Darfur)||War||200,000||Government Accountability Office, 2006|
|2003-06||Uganda||War||100,000||Mazurana et al. 2014|
|2011||Somalia||Drought, war||164,000||Checchi and Robinson 2013; Maxwell and Nisar, 2015|
We note that a famine (caused by drought, floods and economic crisis) in Anhui and Jiangsu provinces of China is reported to have resulted in the deaths of 24 million people in 1907 (Kte’pi, 2011) but were unable to find any other sources to corroborate this. Consequently, we have not included this in our famine data.
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