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Famines through history.

Famine is an extreme shortage of food that causes widespread, persistent hunger and death. It is one of the harshest conditions humans must endure. Many famines are initially caused by natural conditions, such as drought, but become real disasters because of war, overpopulation, and mismanagement of food supplies. In the 20th century, the worst famines had political causes, and resulted in millions of deaths.


4th millennium B.C.

The earliest recorded famines occur in ancient Egypt and the Middle East. In 436 B.C., thousands of starving Romans drown themselves in The Tiber River. Roman emperors will commonly withhold grain from starving peoples as a form of control.

1200-1500 A.D.

Overpopulation, bad harvests, and epidemic diseases like the Black Plague help cause hundreds of famines in Europe during the Middle Ages--95 in Britain alone. In 1235, some Londoners are reduced to eating tree bark to survive; 20,000 of them die of starvation.


Constant warfare among nations contributes to a continuing series of famines in Europe. Cannibalism is reported in Hungary during famines in 1505 and 1598. In 1600, half a million Russians die from starvation. In Asia, famine in India in 1702-1704 kills an estimated 2 million.


A series of blights (plant diseases) destroys the Irish potato crop. English and other Protestant landlords ship needed food overseas while the native Irish go hungry. The Irish Potato Famine results in more than 1 million deaths and produces millions of refugees.


Three years of severe drought in northern China lead to between 9 and 13 million deaths. Similar circumstances result in one of India's worst famines with 5 million dead.


The Huang He River in northern China, often called "China's sorrow", floods, ruining crops and bringing a famine that kills more than 3 million. Communist farm policies in the Soviet Union fail, leading to famine and 9 to 8 million dead between 1932 and 1934.


The Japanese occupation of Burma during World War II cuts off rice to the Bengal region of eastern India; some 2 million die (1043). In Communist China, as many as 20 million perish during the famine that results from Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward farm policies (1958-60).


Casualties from famine during civil war in The Nigerian state of Biafra (1967-1970) are estimated at several million. Food is available in Bangladesh in 1074, but the crops of landless farmers are wiped out by floods, and they cannot buy food.


Ethiopia suffers two devastating drought-related famines in the early 1970s and mid-1990s. Famine resulting from flooding, drought, and economic mismanagement kills as many as 3 million in Communist North Korea (1995-1999). Famine conditions continue to threaten areas in Asia and southern Africa.


1. Who withheld food from the hungry as a form of political control? --

2. Which famine was directly caused by conflict in World War II? --

3. Which three famines in the 20th century resulted from disastrous Communist government policies? --

4. What epidemic helped create famine conditions in the British Isles during the Middle Ages? --

5. What might have caused an Irish family to emigrate to America in 1847? --

6. In which famine was there actually food available to be eaten? --

7. What natural condition is most responsible for causing famine? --

8. Which two Asian nations have suffered the most from famine? --

9. Why do you think the Huang He River has been known as "China's sorrow"? --

10. How do you think war contributes to the spread of famine? --


1. Roman emperors

2. the famine of 1943 in Bengal, India

3. the Soviet Union, 1932-1934; China, 1958-1960; North Korea, 1995-1998

4. the Black Plague

5. the Irish Potato Famine

6. Bangladesh in 1974

7. drought

8. China and India

9. The Huang He has a history of flooding.

10. Answers may include: farmers are displaced or killed; land is destroyed or can't be used; food is seized by armies or governments.
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Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Mar 8, 2004
Previous Article:The world's hungriest countries.
Next Article:Children and hunger.

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