Famine: Causes, Consequences, and Responses

Keith West, Sucheta Mehra

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Famine has plagued humankind, with accounts of devastation and society's responses to it, throughout history. Definitions vary, but generally refer to widespread starvation, infectious disease, high mortality and the dissolution of community. Causes can involve profound market failure, natural disasters and decline in food access, often provoked by conflict, weak infrastructure and poor governance. Food production and availability have often been noted to be adequate amidst famine conditions. Central plan failure has been a hallmark of twentieth century famines. Coping strategies exist to protect human and production assets in famine-prone societies, but eventual loss of entitlement leads to destitution, migration and high loss of life. Government responses to famine have been pre-emptive, preventive, lagged or, occasionally, promotive. The international response to famine requires adequate surveillance and timely action, but remains challenged by its rarity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Human Nutrition
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9780123848857
ISBN (Print)9780123750839
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012


  • Armed conflict
  • Bangladesh
  • Bengal
  • Causes of famine
  • China
  • Coping
  • Entitlement
  • Food insecurity
  • Horn of Africa
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Market failure
  • Responses to famine
  • Russia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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