Famines

OWID presents work from many different people and organizations. When citing this entry, please also cite the original data source. This entry can be cited as:

Joe Hasell and Max Roser (2017) – ‘Famines’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/famines/ [Online Resource]

 

# Empirical View

# Famines since 1860 – Global View

This visualisation shows the number of famine victims globally over the last 16 decades.
The data is taken from the table of famines that you find at the very end of this entry.

# The number of famine victims by decade since 18601

# Rate of people dying due to famines since 1860 – Global View

The last visualisation showed the absolute number of famines in each decade. The following visualisation puts the number of victims in relation to the increasing world population.
The data is taken from the table of famines that you find at the very end of this entry.

# The number of famine victims by decade since 18602

 

 

 

# Long run view for single countries

Saito (2010) has created a chronology of famines in Japan since the 6th century. Before the 14th century data is judged to be incomplete (although the records for the 8th and 9th are surprisingly complete – there were more than 35 famines in each of the two centuries. Overall Saito’s chronology comprises information on 281 famines. None of these 281 famines happened in the 20th century but the following graph shows that the end of hunger in Japan arrived gradually. Before 1550 there were more than 10 famines per 50 years – since then famines became less and less common in Japan.

The number of famine points by half-century, 1300-1900 – Saito (2010)3

The number of famine points by half-century, (1300-1900) – Saito (2010)0

Similar chronologies of famines in single countries are being put together at Wikipedia:

Here is Wikipedia’s list of famines in Ethiopia.

Here is Wikipedia’s list of famines in India during the British rule and here is the entry on famines in India.

And here is Wikipedia’s list of famines in China.


# Data Quality & Definition

# Definition of a famine

According to Cormac Ó Gráda4 famine refers to ‘a shortage of food or purchasing power that leads directly to excess mortality from starvation or hunger-induced diseases’. It is not always straightforward to distinguish it from malnutrition that is described in a different entry in this website. The distinguishing feature between malnutrition and a famine is the latter’s crisis character.
Generally a famine is more severe than malnutrition – Ó Gráda is more specific in this respect and according to him a famine is characterised by 3 features:

  1. A ‘daily death rate above 1 per 10.000 population’,
  2. The ‘proportion of “wasted” children [that is, children weighing two standard deviations or more below the average] above 20 percent’5
  3. ‘Prevalence of kwashiorkor’ (extreme form of malnutrition mainly affecting young children).6

According to O Grada a ‘severe famine’ means

  1. A daily death rate of above 5 / 10.000,
  2. A proportion of wasted children above 40 percent, and
  3. Again, the prevalence of kwashiorkor.

# Comparability across time

Many famines that occurred in the distant past are presumably not recorded in historical accounts and there is a risk that the empirical data underreports long past famines and the number of their victims.
In the study of famines of the past historical myopia is a severe problem. Loveday, an early researcher of Indian famines, noted in 1914, “The frequency of the mention of famine in the later history […] increases in exact proportion with the precision and accuracy in detail of her historians.”7


# Data Sources

Wikipedia presents a list of famines that covers more than 2 millenia.

# Devereux (2000) Famine in the 20th century
  • Data: Famines with more than 1,000 people killed.
  • Geographical coverage: Global
  • Time span: 1900-2000
  • Available at: The research paper Devereux (2000) – Famine in the 20th century is published as a IDS Working Paper here.8
  •  I have included the famines listed by Devereux in the list here in this data entry.

# Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT)
  • Data: Information on the occurrence of famines – and other (natural) disasters.
  • Geographical coverage: Global
  • Time span: 1900-present
  • Available at: Online at www.emdat.be
  •  This resource is published by  the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).  EM-DAT states that the database “contains essential core data on the occurrence and effects of over 18,000 mass disasters in the world from 1900 to present. The database is compiled from various sources, including UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, insurance companies, research institutes and press agencies.”
  • Neumayer and Plümper (2007) give an overview of natural disasters covered by EM-DAT.9
  • The EM-DAT data for the time post 1970 is also available through Gapminder here.

 

# Our World in Data – List of famines worldwide since 1850

The first visualisation in this entry is based on this list of famines assembled by us.

The list is is based on several sources:

Devereux (2000) – Famine in the 20th century. IDS Working Paper 105. Brighton: Institute for Development Studies. The paper can be downloaded from IDS here. Whenever there was data available from both Devereux (2000) and additional sources the data from Devereux is shown here. The extensive bibliography on which the list in Devereux (2000) is based can be found in the cited (freely available) research paper.
Additional data for the time since 1900 was taken from EM-DAT. These data on victims of ‘droughts’ were obtained by using this search request.

Devereux (2000) and EM-DAT only cover famines after 1900 – data on famines before 1900 were taken from the following sources:
Kumar and Raychaudhuri [Eds.] (1983) – The Cambridge economic history of India, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1983

Ó Gráda (2007) – Making Famine History. Journal of Economic Literature. Vol. 45, No. 1 (Mar., 2007), pp. 5-38.

Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. III (1907), The Indian Empire, Economic (Chapter X: Famine, pp. 475–502, Published under the authority of His Majesty’s Secretary of State for India in Council, Oxford at the Clarendon Press. Pp. xxx, 1 map, 552. Through Wikipedia here.

Shoko Okazaki (1986) – The Great Persian Famine of 1870-71. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 49, No. 1, In Honour of Ann K. S. Lambton (1986), pp. 183-192

Crowell and Oozevaseuk (2006) – The St. Lawrence Island Famine and Epidemic, 1878–80: A Yupik Narrative in Cultural and Historical Context. Online here.

White (2011) – The Great Big Book of Horrible Things. W. W. Norton & Company.

‘Wikipedia List’ refers to the List of Famines here.

YearCountryOWID continentExcess Mortality- lower boundExcess Mortality- upper boundExcess Mortality- mid-pointSource
1846–52IrelandEurope1,000,0001,000,0001,000,000Ó Gráda (2007)
1845–1857ScotlandEuropehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Potato_Famine
1850-1873ChinaAsiahighWikipedia list
1853-5IndiaAsiaN.A.Kumar and Raychaudhuri [Eds.] (1983)
1860s
1860-1IndiaAsia2,000,0002,000,0002,000,000Kumar and Raychaudhuri [Eds.] (1983)
1862IndiaAsiaN.A.Kumar and Raychaudhuri [Eds.] (1983)
1863-67Cape VerdeAfrica30,00030,00030,000Ó Gráda (2009), p. 22
1866-7IndiaAsia961,043961,043961,043Kumar and Raychaudhuri [Eds.] (1983)
1868FinlandEurope100,000100,000100,000Ó Gráda (2009) Table 1.1
1868-70IndiaAsia1,500,0001,500,0001,500,000Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. III (1907),
1870s
1870–1871Persia (now Iran)Asia500,0001,500,0001,000,000Okazaki (1986)
1873-4IndiaAsiasmallKumar and Raychaudhuri [Eds.] (1983)
1876–79BrazilSouth America500,000500,000500,000WPF; see also Davis (2001)
1876–79IndiaAsia6,135,0008,217,6927,176,346Maharatna (1992) (the phd thesis). See also Ó Gráda (2009) Table 1.1
1877–79ChinaAsia9,000,00013,000,00011,000,000WPF; Ó Gráda (2009) Table 1.1
1878-1880USA (St. Lawreence Island Alaska)North Americasmall (around a thousandCrowell and Oozevaseuk (2006)
1879IrelandEuropelow
1880s
1880–1881EthiopiaAfrica
1885-99CongoAfrica3,000,0003,000,0003,000,000WPF
1888-92SudanAfrica2,000,0002,000,0002,000,000WPF
1888-9IndiaAsia150,000150,000150,000Kumar and Raychaudhuri [Eds.] (1983)
1888–1892EthiopiaAfrica1,000,0001,000,0001,000,000WPF
1890s
1891–1892RussiaEurope275,000275,000275,000WPF
1896-7IndiaAsia2,624,5745,150,0003,887,287Kumar and Raychaudhuri [Eds.] (1983); Maharatna 1992 (the phd thesis)
1896-1900BrazilSouth America1,000,0001,000,0001,000,000WPF
1897-1901ChinaAsia1,000,0001,000,0001,000,000WPF
1899-1901IndiaAsia1,000,0004,399,5792,699,790WPF; Maharatna (1992) (the phd thesis)
1899-1902S AfricaAfrica42,00042,00042,000WPF (Carver, 2000)
1900s
1900-03Cape VerdeAfrica110002000015,500EM-DAT; Ó Gráda (2009), p. 22
1903-06Nigeria (Hausaland)Africa5,0005,0005,000Devereux (2000)
1904-07NamibiaAfrica34110,00055,017WPF (Olusoga and Ericsen, 2011)
1906-07Tanzania (south)Africa37,500200,000118,750Devereux (2000); WPF (Iliffe, 1979)
1907-08IndiaAsia2,148,7883,218,7762,683,782Maharatna 1992 (the phd thesis)
1910s
1910NigerAfrica85,00085,00085,000EM-DAT
1913-14West Africa (Sahel)Africa125,000125,000125,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1915-18Greater Syria (including Lebanon)Asia350,000350,000350,000WPF
1915-16Turkey (Armenians)Asia400,000400,000400,000WPF
1917-18GermanyEurope763,000763,000763,000WPF
1917-19PersiaAsia455,200455,200455,200WPF
1917-19East AfricaAfrica300,000300,000300,000WPF (Paice, 2007); see also Devereux (2000).
1919ArmeniaAsia200,000200,000200,000WPF
1920s
1920-22Cape VerdeAfrica24,00025,00024,500EM-DAT; Ó Gráda (2009), p. 22
1920-21China (Gansu, Shaanxi)Asia500,000500,000500,000Devereux (2000)
1921-22Soviet UnionEurope/Asia9,000,0009,000,0009,000,000Devereux (2000); Ó Gráda (2009) Table 1.1
1927China (northwest)Asia3,000,0006,000,0004,500,000Devereux (2000); Ó Gráda (2009) Table 1.1
1929China (Hunan)Asia2,000,0002,000,0002,000,000Devereux (2000); Ó Gráda (2008)
1930s
1930-31LibyaAfrica50,00050,00050,000WPF
1932-34Soviet Union (Ukraine)Europe3,300,0008,000,0005,650,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1932-34USSR (Russia, Kazakhstan)Asia1,500,0001,500,0001,500,000WPF
1934, 1936-7China (Sichuan)Asia5,000,0005,000,0005,000,000WPF; Ó Gráda (2008)
1940s
1940-43Cape VerdeAfrica20,00020,00020,000EM-DAT; O Grada (2009), p. 22
1941-50Europe/USSR (WWII-related)Europe6,333,0006,333,0006,333,000WPF
1941-45East/Southeast Asia (WWII-related)Asia3,444,0003,444,0003,444,000WPF
1943China (Henan)Asia1,500,0005,000,0003,250,000Devereux (2000); WPF. See also Ó Gráda (2008)
1943India (Bengal)Asia2,100,0003,000,0002,550,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1943-44RwandaAfrica300,000300,000300,000Devereux (2000)
1944NetherlandsEurope10,00010,00010,000Devereux (2000)
1946-48Cape VerdeAfrica30,00030,00030,000EM-DAT; Ó Gráda (2009), p. 22
1946-47Soviet UnionEurope600,0002,000,0001,300,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1950s
1957-58Ethiopia (Tigray)Africa100,000397,000248,500Devereux (2000); WPF
1958-62ChinaAsia15,000,00033,000,00024,000,000Devereux (2000); WPF; Ó Gráda (2009) Table 1.1
1960s
1966Ethiopia (Wallo)Africa45,00060,00052,500Devereux (2000)
1962-68IndonesiaAsia125,400135,400130,400van der Eng (2012)
1968-70Nigeria (Biafra)Africa500,0001,000,000750,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1970s
1969-74West Africa (Sahel)Africa0101,00050,500Devereux (2000); WPF
1972-73India (Maharashtra)Asia130,000130,000130,000Devereux (2000)
1972-75Ethiopia (Wallo & Tigray)Africa200,000500,000350,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1974-75SomaliaAfrica20,00010,000Devereux (2000)
1974BangladeshAsia500,0001,500,0001,000,000Devereux (2000); Ó Gráda (2009) p. 98
1979CambodiaAsia1,500,0002,000,0001,750,000Devereux (2000); but see Ó Gráda (2009) p. 98
1980s
1980ChadAfrica3000EM-DAT; see also Iliffe 1987:253
1980-81UgandaAfrica30,00030,00030,000Devereux (2000)
1982-85MozambiqueAfrica100,000100,000100,000Devereux (2000)
1983-85EthiopiaAfrica590,0001,000,000795,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1984-85Sudan (Darfur, Kordofan)Africa240,000250,000245,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1988Sudan (south)Africa100,000250,000175,000Devereux (2000); WPF
1990s
1991-93SomaliaAfrica220,000500,000360,000Devereux (2000), WPF
1995-99North KoreaAsia240,0003,500,0001,870,000Devereux (2000); WPF; see Ó Gráda (2009) p.94
1998Sudan (Baht el Ghazal)Africa70,000100,00085,000Devereux (2000); WPF (Medley, 2010; Burr. 1998)
1998-2002Democratic Republic of Congo Africa290,5005,400,0002,845,250WPF
2000s
2003-05Sudan (Darfur)Africa200,000200,000200,000WPF
2003-06UgandaAfrica100,000100,000100,000WPF
2010s
2011SomaliaAfrica164000WPF (Checchi and Robinson 2013; Maxwell and Nisar, 2015)