K4D Helpdesk Report

Social Inequalities and Famine and Severe Food Insecurity Risk

Published on 30 June 2021

This rapid review summarises the evidence on the ways in which social inequalities and discrimination affect the risk of famine or severe food insecurity.

Looking at the risk at the national and sub-national level, gender and other horizontal inequities can affect a society’s risk of violent conflict and therefore food insecurity, while fragile livelihoods associated with ethnic marginalisation can impact regional food security. At the individual and household level, there is a lack of disaggregated data on people’s social characteristics and famines.

There is a broader literature on the impact of systemic discrimination (based on gender, age, disability, sexuality, and ethnic identity) on individuals’ and households’ livelihoods and assets, thereby increasing their vulnerability to food insecurity.

A key finding from the literature is the gender gap, with women more at risk of being food insecure than men. Also, some ethnic groups are highly vulnerable particularly in conflict-related famines; starvation is used as a warfare tactic in political and ethnic conflicts.

There is evidence of how social inequalities heighten individuals’ risks during food crises and famines, including through exposure to protection threats, while limiting their access to essential services and humanitarian assistance. A broad range of measures seeks to address the multi-dimensional ways in which social inequalities affect vulnerability and resilience to food insecurity.

This rapid review and slide deck are part of the K4D Inclusion in Crises Learning Journey.

Cite this publication

Carter, B., & Kelly, L. (2021). Social inequalities and famine and food insecurity risk. K4D Helpdesk Report. Institute of Development Studies. DOI: 10.19088/K4D.2021.097


Becky Carter

Research Officer

Luke Kelly

University of Manchester

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