Starvation and Famines
Famines imply starvation, but not vice versa. And starvation implies poverty, but not vice versa. The time has come for us to move from the general terrain of poverty to the disastrous phenomenon of famines.
Poverty, as was discussed in Chapter 2, can reflect relative deprivation as opposed to absolute dispossession. It is possible for poverty to exist, and be regarded as acute, even when no serious starvation occurs. Starvation, on the other hand, does imply poverty, since the absolute dispossession that characterizes starvation is more than sufficient to be diagnosed as poverty, no matter what story emerges from the view of relative deprivation.
Starvation is a normal feature in many parts of the world, but this phenomenon of 'regular' starvation has to be distinguished from violent outbursts of famines. It isn't just regular starvation that one sees in 436 BC, when thousands of starving Romans 'threw themselves into the Tiber'; or in Kashmir in AD 918, when 'one could scarcely see the water of Vitasta [ Jhelum] entirely covered as the river was with corpses'; or in 1333-7 in China, when -- we are told -- four million people died in one region only; or in 1770 in India, when the best estimates point to ten million deaths; or in 1845-51 in Ireland, when the potato famine killed about one-fifth of the total Irish population and led to the emigration of a comparable number.1 While there is quite a literature on how to 'define' famines,2 one can very often____________________