from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A famine is a phenomenon in which a large proportion of the population of a region or a country is malnourished and death from starvation increases ( "starvation") or by hunger related diseases in a great extent. This can, but does not always have to, be accompanied by actual food shortages. Not infrequently, famines led to hunger riots .

Hunger was so widespread in the Middle Ages that it was considered one of the " four horsemen of the apocalyptic " alongside war , pestilence and death . Several million people died in Europe in the famine of 1315–1317 . The worst famine in Europe in the 15th century took place from 1437 to 1439/40 . Famine is practically non-existent in industrialized countries today, but it still occurs in developing countries . Most of today's world hunger is not made up of acute famine, but the chronic hunger of poor sections of the population.


The UN defines a famine based on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification as follows:

  • at least 20% of the population has access to less than 2100 kilocalories per day
  • at least 30% of the children are acutely malnourished
  • at least two in 10,000 people (or four in 10,000 children) die from starvation every day

Causes and Background

Possible causes of famines are crop failures due to natural factors such as storms , drought , pests and other natural disasters with insufficient stocks . These factors can be exacerbated by unsustainable economies that encourage erosion and desertification ; conversely, improved stocks and adapted farming methods can reduce susceptibility to natural hazards.

The eruption of the Indonesian volcano Tambora in 1816 led to the " year without a summer ", crop failures and famine. Draft animals were slaughtered, seed potatoes dug up again, hunger rolls made with gypsum powder, acorn or sawdust, or cooked grass, clover, roots and hay ate. The harsh winter of 1783/84 with subsequent floods and crop damage was caused by the eruption of the Laki crater on Iceland. See also Little Ice Age and List of Weather Events in Europe and List of Major Historical Volcanic Eruptions .

Since the 1970s, in addition to natural and economic causes of famine, social and political reasons have also been considered and analyzed. The economist Amartya Sen has stated that there has never been a famine in any functioning democracy . Hunger is a problem of food distribution and the poverty of the affected sections of the population, not necessarily an absolute lack of food. See also " How inequality creates hunger ".

Famine in Russia 1921–1922
Famine in Bengal , October 1943 in Calcutta, British India

Artificial famines are caused by war or policy failure, or are deliberately triggered with genocidal intent. In cases like the Great Leap Forward , North Korea in the mid-1990s or Zimbabwe since 2000, hunger can essentially be viewed as a result of government policy. In other cases, such as the civil wars in Somalia or Sudan , hunger has been an inevitable result of war or a deliberate part of war strategy when food distribution systems are disrupted and agricultural activities are rendered impossible. Humanitarian aid measures such as Operation Lifeline Sudan have been partially taken over by the conflicting parties.

If hunger is used deliberately in war or as a tool of a repressive government against an undesirable population group, one also speaks of "hunger as a weapon". For example, the Soviet communist leadership under Josef Stalin initiated the Holodomor in Ukraine and the famine in Kazakhstan during the 1930s . The military dictator Gowon blocked the supply of food to the Biafra region after he came to power in Nigeria during the Biafra War (mid-1967 to January 1970) after Biafra declared independence.

Although mathematically enough food would be available for the entire world population, there are still famines , especially in Africa , in the 21st century . Today, acute famine is usually responded to with international food aid . In the years 2007 to 2008 and again from 2010 to 2011, the global price index for food rose sharply. Prices for staple foods such as corn , wheat and rice doubled and more. In a study for Welthungerhilfe, Hans-Heinrich Bass expresses the view that, in addition to the fundamental factors, changes in the behavior of financial market investors also drive prices up. However, this view is highly controversial among scientists.

In 2008, the World Bank considered hunger riots (triggered by the sharp rise in food prices at the time) in 33 countries to be possible. Riots in Haiti led to the dismissal of Prime Minister Alexis . The reasons for the price increase are often cited as population growth , crop losses due to droughts and floods, apparently as a result of climate change , the competition between cultivation areas for biofuels and animal feed for meat production, and a growing need for food in emerging countries such as China and India . The decade from 2000 to 2010 was also marked by a rising oil price ; In mid-2008, it hit an all-time high of around $ 140 a barrel.

Types of hunger

Hunger is divided into two types:

Acute hunger (famine)
Describes malnutrition over a definable period of time. This often occurs in connection with crises (e.g. droughts caused by El Niño), wars and disasters and often affects people who are already suffering from chronic hunger. Almost ten percent of all hungry people are affected by acute hunger.
Chronic hunger
Denotes a state of permanent malnutrition. Although the media mostly only report on acute hunger crises, chronic hunger affects the vast majority of those who go hungry. They don't have enough to eat, usually also no clean water or health care.

Hunger is also differentiated according to what is specifically lacking in nutrition:

Energy and protein deficiency (macronutrients)
Less food is consumed every day than the body needs. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization FAO has set the threshold at 1,800 calories per day. From this the number of 795 million starving people is calculated. It should be noted, however, that poor people in particular often have to work hard physically, and the value should therefore actually be higher.
"Hidden" hunger
Due to a lack of vitamins and minerals (micronutrients). A one-sided diet means that important nutrients such as iron, iodine, zinc or vitamin A are missing. The consequences are not necessarily visible at first glance, but children in particular cannot develop properly mentally and physically. The risk of death is high. Two billion people worldwide suffer from “hidden hunger”.


Child in the Biafra War , Nigeria

Hunger is also widespread in Africa today . Climatic fluctuations , droughts , soil infertility, erosion and swarms of locusts can lead to crop failures. Other adverse factors include political instability, armed conflict, civil war, corruption , mismanagement, population growth and international trade policies that hinder the marketing of African agricultural products. AIDS has long-term economic effects on agriculture (especially in southern Africa) by decimating the agricultural population.

On recent famines in Africa, see for example: Famine in Somalia (1990s) .

Example of the Sahel zone

Basically, it can be stated that in addition to the natural causes of the lack of precipitation or precipitation at the wrong time and erosion damage, humans in particular contribute to famine through:

  • Failed calls for help and countermeasures,
  • general chaos of war,
  • lack of incentives to produce surplus (government purchase prices that are too low),
  • Marketing bans,
  • Cultivation of export products ( cotton , peanuts , palm oil ) instead of staple foods,
  • Nationalization of large companies; low productivity, inefficient way of working,
  • lack of infrastructure ,
  • high population pressure ,
  • Corruption and arbitrary political measures by those in power and
  • unsustainable agriculture.


Persistent severe hunger can lead to inedible eating ( e.g. acorns ), food taboos being broken ( e.g. human meat being eaten), starving people eating rotten, germinated or other unsuitable foods ( risk of epidemics ).

Hunger has a strong impact on demographics . For example, it has been observed that prolonged periods of starvation can lead to a reduction in the number of female children ( see also infanticide ). Demographers and historians debate the causes of this tendency. Some believe that parents deliberately favor male children (by selling female children or killing them after birth, see neonaticide ). Others believe that biological processes ( amenorrhea ) can be the cause.

Famine often respond to pressures on their livelihood by selling things like livestock, land, or tools. This enables them to survive in the short term, but weakens their economic base in the long term. In Ethiopia, most families affected by the 1984–1985 famine have not yet reached the social, economic and productive levels that they had before.

List of historical famines


Measures to prevent famine can be mentioned:

  • Stock keeping , both by the state and by the private sector
  • Increase in agricultural production
  • Protection of natural resources
  • Eliminating the causes of crop pests
  • Support for disadvantaged rural population groups ( small farmers , landless )
  • Slowdown in population growth

Another measure to combat food shortages is to refrain from producing and consuming animal proteins. For example, around five to ten kilograms of vegetable protein are required to produce one kilogram of animal protein. During the flu epidemic in the winter of 1917–1918, the Danish doctor Mikkel Hindhede advised that the grain and potatoes previously used as pig feed should be used directly for human consumption. The pig population has been reduced to a fifth. As a result, a famine (as in Germany, which was also affected, where even more food was available than in Denmark) could be avoided and the mortality rate of the population could be reduced by 17 percent to the lowest previous level.

See also


  • Hans-Heinrich Bass : World food in crisis , GIGA Focus Global No. 5, 2012
  • Hans-Heinrich Bass: Hunger crises in Prussia during the first half of the 19th century. Scripta Mercaturae Verlag, St. Katharinen 1991, ISBN 3-922661-90-4 .
  • Christina Benninghaus (ed.): Region in turmoil. Hunger crisis and protests of inflation in the Prussian province of Saxony and Anhalt in 1846/47. Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle (Saale) 2000, ISBN 3-89812-015-5 ( Studies on State History 3).
  • Michael Bergstreser (ed.): Global hunger crisis. The struggle for the human right to food. VSA-Verlag, Hamburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-89965-383-0 .
  • Mike Davis : The Birth of the Third World. Famine and mass extermination in the imperialist age. Verlag Association, Berlin u. a. 2004, ISBN 3-935936-11-7 .
  • William Easterly : The Elusive Quest for Growth. Economists' adventures and misadventures in the tropics. The MIT Press, Cambridge MA 2001, ISBN 0-262-05065-X .
  • Gunnar Heinsohn : Lexicon of Genocides. Rowohlt-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1998, ISBN 3-499-22338-4 ( rororo. Rororo-aktuell 22338).
  • Andreas Holzem (Ed.): When hunger threatens. Coping with and Religious Interpretation (1400–1980) . Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 2017, ISBN 978-3-16-155175-8 .
  • Christian Jörg: Expensive, hungry, great death. Famine and supply crises in the cities of the empire during the 15th century. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-7772-0800-8 ( monographs on the history of the Middle Ages 55), (also: Trier, Univ., Diss., 2006).
  • William Chester Jordan : The Great Famine. Northern Europe in the early fourteenth century. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1996, ISBN 0-691-01134-6 .
  • Cormac Ó Gráda, Richard Paping, and Eric Vanhaute (Eds.): When the Potato failed. Causes and Effects of the Last European Subsistence Crisis, 1845-1850 . Brepols Publishers, Turnhout 2007, ISBN 978-2-503-51985-2 .
  • Guido Rüthemann (ed.): World Chronicle of Disasters. Volume 3: Violence, Power, Hunger. Part 1: Josef Nussbaumer, Guido Rüthemann: Severe famine since 1845. Studien-Verlag, Innsbruck u. a. 2003, ISBN 978-3-70-651558-0 ( History & Economics 13).
  • Amartya Sen : Poverty and Famines. An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Reprint edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford u. a. 2007, ISBN 978-0-19-828463-5 .

Web links

Commons : Famine  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files
Wiktionary: Famine  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Who, what, why: What is a famine? BBC News, July 20, 2011.
  2. Renate too, man, Stefan Brönnimann, Florian Arfeuille: Tambora: the year without a summer ; doi : 10.1002 / piuz.201401390
  3. When it was winter all year
  4. Hunger Years: When sawdust was included in the bread
  5. ^ Raphael Lemkin: Soviet Genocide in the Ukraine ( Memento of March 2, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Raphael Lemkin Papers, The New York Public Library, 1953.
  6. Boris Barth : Genocide. Genocide in the 20th Century. History, theories, controversies . Beck, Munich 2006, (Beck'sche Reihe, vol. 1672), p. 143 , ISBN 3-406-52865-1 .
  7. Hans-Heinrich Bass, Financial Markets Cause Hunger? , Study for Deutsche Welthungerhilfe eV, 2011
  8. Hans-Heinrich Bass, Financial Speculation and Food Prices - Notes on the State of Research , Materials of the Scientific Focus "Globalization of the World Economy", Volume 42, 2013
  9. Ingo Pies, Agricultural Speculation: Curse or Blessing? , Discussion Paper No. 2013-23 of the Chair of Business Ethics at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, 2013
  10. Irwin, SH and DR Sanders (2010), The Impact of Index and Swap Funds on Commodity Futures Markets: Preliminary Results , OECD Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Working Papers, No. 27
  11. a b Tagesschau: Questions and Answers on the Hunger Crisis ( Memento from June 20, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  12. Tagesschau.de: "A hungry man is an angry man" ( Memento from March 29, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  13. Types of hunger. Retrieved September 6, 2017 .
  14. ^ Jean Ziegler: The Empire of Shame , p. 1960
  15. Ursula Wolf: Das Tier in der Moral , 2nd ed. Frankfurt a. M. 2004, p. 17f.
  16. Jörg Melzer: Mikkel Hindhede: scientific nutritional research . In: Whole Foods Nutrition. MedGG supplements 20, Institute for the History of Medicine of the Robert Bosch Foundation, Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2003, pp. 104–113.