The twentieth century was the worst ever in terms of famine mortality, yet it was also the historical moment when the technical capacity to eradicate famine was first achieved, and when famine was seemingly ended in many historically famine-prone countries – Russia, China, India, Bangladesh.
Depressingly, at the start of the twenty-first century, famine persists. It remains endemic in the Horn of Africa – Ethiopia and Sudan have both suffered mass mortality famines within the last five years – it seems to be spreading to parts of Africa that were previously famine-free and it remains to be seen whether the North Korea famine during the 1990s was an aberration (the last ever ‘central planning’ famine) or the harbinger of something new.
Why does famine persist? Are the ‘new famines’ more ‘political’ than historical famines, or are we simply recognising the centrality of political factors more than before? What do recent food crises in Ethiopia, Iraq, Madagascar, Malawi and Sudan tell us about the future trajectory of famine? What lessons can we draw from recent successes in containing or averting famine – in Bangladesh, Bosnia, Mongolia – for a new famine prevention policy agenda? These are some of the questions that this Bulletin, through an analysis of these and other case studies, tries to address.
This Introduction sets the context for the articles that follow. It starts with an overview of twentieth century famines, considering both trends in mortality and trajectories in terms of causal triggers. Next we examine recent ‘hidden’ and ‘unexpected’ famines, and argue that our evolving thinking on famine has failed to adequately incorporate the ‘globalisation’ of famine processes and actors. Finally, the contributed articles to this Bulletin are introduced.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 33.4 (2002) The ‘New Famines’