|Drought and Famine (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1994, 53 p.)|
|PART 2 Famine|
For many, the word famine is defined by images of mass starvation, where whole communities are literally starving to death. Indeed, such is the power of the modern media, that some tend to define famine in terms of the horrific and widely screened film of the feeding camps in northern Ethiopia in late 1984. Such a perspective is problematic in at least three respects:
· it tends to view famine as a single event rather than as a process which culminates in significantly increased morbidity and mortality;
· it is rarely the case that whole communities starve to death. Rather it is usually only certain more vulnerable groups within the community that experience significantly increased mortality rates;
· famines need not be as stark and visible as in the extreme situation of the barren Ethiopian feeding camps. Widespread starvation can occur almost unseen to the outside observer, behind closed doors in peoples homes even in agriculturally productive areas.
However, to accept that famine is a process rather than a single clearly identifiable event creates problems for those trying to differentiate famine from other more prevalent conditions such as chronic hunger which affects as many as a third of the worlds population and causes the premature death of many among the worlds poor. The safest approach is to define famine in the following terms:
Famine results from a sequence of processes and events that reduces food availability or food entitlements and causes widespread and substantially increased morbidity and mortality.3 (after Downing 1990)
Over the last two decades me concept of food security has emerged as a definitional scheme that considers the relationships between food production, distribution and consumption. It is now widely used by governments and donor agencies and it is helpful to locate famine within this framework. The most widely used definition of food security is that outlined by me World Bank (1986):
Food security is access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.4 Its essential elements are the availability of food and the ability to acquire it, food insecurity, in turn, is the lack of access to enough food. There are two kinds of food insecurity: chronic and transitory.
Chronic food insecurity is a continuously inadequate diet caused by a households persistent lack of ability to buy or to produce enough food.
Transitory food insecurity is a temporary decline in a households access to enough food. It often results from instability in food prices, declining food production or household incomes - and in its worst form produces famine.
FAO DEFINITION OF FOOD SECURITY
The concept of food security is further clarified by using the FAO definition where food security embraces 3 main objectives:
- Adequate supply (including production, reduction of post-harvest losses and balance between imports and exports).
- Stable supply (including production and price stability at interzonal and intertemporal level).
- Access to supply (including adequacy of consumption in the insecure zones, adequacy of income in relation to food prices and access to employment).
Q. Choose a famine that you are familiar with or one of the famines described in Box 4. Indicate whether the famine was a result of chronic or transitory food insecurity and cite both events and processes that encouraged the famine to develop.
The Irish famine of 1845-49 was a transitory food insecurity famine that was caused by potato blight (an event) and protectionist agricultural policies (a process) These situations combined to cause over one million deaths and widespread migration.