“The demand and supply of food has been in a delicate balance for the human species throughout history.”
By Dr. John J. Hidore
October 30, 2018—–The term famine produces an image of starvation and suffering in the minds of most people. In general a famine is a lack of food sufficient to produce malnutrition in large numbers of people over a wide area. The United Nations considers several conditions for a regional food shortage to be considered a famine. They are:
1. At least 20% of families in the area face extreme food shortages that they cannot cope with.
2. Acute malnutrition in children exceeds 20%.
3. The death rate exceeds two persons for each 10,000 people per day.
The Role of Climate Change in Historic Famines
There are many causes of famine, including climate changes, war, and political policies. One of the major ones is drought. Most of the catastrophic famines in historic times have been precipitated by drought. Drought can affect the quality and quantity of crop yields and the food supply for domestic animals. In the case of severe drought there may be a substantial loss of domestic animals due to lack of food. The loss of milk products or meat itself can precipitate the effects of the drought.
The demand and supply of food has been in a delicate balance for the human species throughout history. When the food supply has increased there has been a gain in population, and when food has been in short supply there has been some sort of trauma inflicted on the populace. Starvation results from insufficient food intake. During the long period of the hunting and gathering societies, starvation was probably often near at hand for individuals, family groups and tribes.
Agriculture and Famine
The development of agriculture allowed the world population to expand rapidly and greatly. At the same time, the basis for the supply of food, namely agriculture, became more directly dependent upon the weather. Famine as a phenomenon did not become a part of human experience until after agriculture began. However, as agriculture expanded so did the frequency of famines. The number of times that famine has spread on the continents is enormous. Nearly all histories of peoples and nations record famines.
Great famines have occurred throughout the Asian continent. India, China, Russia and the countries of the Middle East have all suffered from famine, many times which were drought related. An example is the famine described as occurring during the time of Abraham (about 2247 B.C). Another massive famine occurred in Egypt prior to the exodus of the Israelites. Drought and famine are endemic in India and China. The oldest record of famine in India goes back to 400 B.C. and in China to 108 B.C. Since the time of the earliest known famine there have been nearly continuous episodes of drought and famine in many parts of Asia or Africa.
The Impact of Drought in Developing Countries
Drought has a much greater impact on people in developing countries than it does in industrial societies. The primary reason for this is that in the developing countries there is more dependence on agriculture as a way of life. When crops fail, or there isn’t enough forage for livestock, there is an immediate effect on the populace.
A very positive aspect of famine is that they are becoming fewer and less extensive due to the ability of the global economy to move large quantities of food from place to place.