** economics : 20th century famine








Famines: 20th Century


Figure 1.-- The Great Famines of the 20th century were primarily political famines caused by the great totalitarian powers, both Fascist and Communist killing in the tens of millions. In contrast it was capitalist America which provided the foods that saved people in the tens of millions. The most dreadful famine was the one resulting from Mao's Great Leap Forward (1959-62) in Communist China. The ineffeiceny of Chinese agriculturewas perpetual problem in China with millions living on the edge of surviva; When combined with the ineffiencies of Communism--the greatest famine in world history occurred. Mao brought tragedy to China on an epic scale.

Terrible famines occurred in the 20th century. Many were political famines in contrast to the mostly enviromental famines that dominated human history. And most of the 20th century famines were connected with the totalitarian political movements (Communist and Fascist) which played such a major role in the history of the century. The Huang He River in northern China, often called "China's sorrow", floods, ruining crops and bringing a famine that killed more than 3 million. Communist farm policies in the Soviet Union fail, leading to famine and 9 to 8 million dead (1932-34). The consequences were especially severe in the Ukraine, primarily because Stalin wanted to elimninate resistance to Soviet rule. Burma was a major rice producer and exporter. It supplied substasntial quantities to India, especially eastermn India or Bengal. The Japanese World War II occupation of Burma (1942) cut off rice to the Bengal region of eastern India. Some 2 million people are believe to have perished in the resulting Bengal Famine (1943). Japanese occupation authorities caused a massive but less well reported famine in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in which an estimated 4-5 million died. They were also resonsible for a comparable famine in French Indo-China (Vietnam). Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward to modernize the Chinese economy (1957–60) caused a famine from misguided farm and industrial policies in which tens of millions died. The ineffeiceny of Chinese agriculturewas perpetual problem in China with millions living on the edge of surviva; When combined with the ineffiencies of Communism--the greatest famine in world history occurred. Mao brought tragedy to China on an epic scale. He was convinced drive industrial output could be driven past Britain and achieve autonomy from the USSR on which China was dependent on for technology. Mao not only failed with industry from agicultural failure on a vast scale. Some 35-55 million people may have fied in the ensuing famine.

Hanh He Famine

The Huang He River in northern China, often called "China's sorrow", floods, ruining crops and bringing a famine that killed more than 3 millionpeople, mostly peasants.

World War I (1914-18)

World War I very quickly led to food shortahes in Europe whicj only became worse as the War continued. The first crisis was in Belgium when after invading, the German Army seized the civilian food supply. Only emergency food shipments from America prevented widespread famine. While American relief efforts got food through to Belgium, the Netherlands, France as well as Italy. Feeding countries occupied by the Germans proved difficicult. The situation in Serbiaas especially dire. Food because of Russian war policies became a seriousproblem in Russia leaing to the Revolution. Food also becane a major problem with the Cntral Powers (Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire). By the end of the war, Europe was starving. Only maasive American relief efforts organized by future president Herbert Hoover, prevented a horrible death toll. America food went not only to its allies, but former enemies as well.

Russia (1920-23)

Following the Civil War some 9 million people died. The disoreders of the Civil War amd massive crop failures due to drought were largely ignored by Vladimir Lenin's Soviet government. The adverse impact on the image the Sovies were prpagaing of happy peasants and workers preented the Soviet Government from asking for assistance. Eventually the crisis became so severe that the Blosheviks finally had to ask for assistnce. Actual aid was furher delayed as the Blosheviks demanded to contro distribution. The Americans fearing that the Bolsheviks would used the food as a weapon

North China (1928-31)

The Chinese famine of 1928–30 was centered in northern China. The provinces mos affected were Henan, Shaanxi, and Gansu. The famine hit a large area of North China. Some 3-6 million people are believed to have died. Drought precipitated te famine. The war lords in control of the area made mtters worse. The Nationalist relief effort was ineffective. Involved in a Civil War with the Communists, the Nationlists imposed harsh taxes. The basic problem in China was that the large poplation forced peasants on to marginal land. But also because agricultural methods were so inefficent that peasants only produced slighly above subsistence levels. So droughts and floods could have terrible cosequences. And the sane was true of political unpheaval in which contending armies could impose heavy leavies on the peasantry.

Soviet Collectivization/Ukranian Famine

Lenin introduced his New Economic Policy (NEP) which resulted in improved agrivultural harvests. Harvesys did not return to pre-Revolution levels when Russia was Rurope'd breadbasket, bit they did improve. After Lenin died, Stalin seized control of the soviet state and launched a massive industrialization effort. He sought to support that effort through new agricultural policies. He attempted to modernize agiculture through mechnization and collectivuzation. He believed for ideological resons that collectivization would increase increase harvests, but just as important was control. He was not prepared to leave such an imprtant part of the economy in private (peasant) hands. Stalinist farm policies failed utterly. This lead to widespread famine and 9 to 8 million dead (1932-34). The consequences were especially severe in the Ukraine. The failure of collectivization was only part of the problem. Stalin was determined to break the Ukranian Catholic peasantry and its resistance to Communism. Millions of peasants were driven from their land or starved in their homes.

World War II (1939-45)

Food was a major issue in World War II. Rhe Germans adopted a NAZI developed Hunger Plan as state policy. It was a major killing instrument first imposed on Jews. And it was to be a major killing pln associated with Generalplan Ist. Famine resulted in Greece and the Netherlands. Burma was a major rice producer and exporter. It supplied substasntial quantities to India, especially eastermn India or Bengal. The Japanese World War II occupation of Burma (1942) cut off rice to the Bengal region of eastern India. Some 2 million people are believe to have perished in the resulting Bengal Famine (1943). Japanese occupation authorities caused a massive but less well reported famine in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in which an estimated 4-5 million died. They were also resonsible for a comparable famine in French Indo-China (Vietnam). As Japan gained control mor of Cina's agicultutral land, the food situation in China deteriorated. The situation in Henam Province was especilly serious (1943). Some 5 million people may have died. Again during and after the War, American food relief prevented 19s of millions of people from starving.

Soviet Union (1946-47)

the Soviet food situation was precarious during World War II because the Germans seized the best agricultural land (1941). The Soviet drove the Germans out (1943-44), but the damage was so extensive that it was impossible to immediately estore farm production. American Lend Lease helped to feed the Soviets durung the War. Even so, food shortages were serious. Many Soviet civilians were malnourshed affecting health. America ended Lend Lease at the end of the War. And there was no post-War aid effort because of the Soviet insistance on setting up Communist police state dictarorships in Easern Europe. Aserious food situation develioed in Ukraine and Belorussia (1946-47). Both a drought and government policy were involved. Stalin orderd the strict re-enforcement of agricultural collectivisation policies. Some 2 million people may have died. This was the last famine in the Soviet Union, although food shortahes continus throughout the Soviet era despite the huge expances of prime agicultural land. .

Mao's Great Leap Forward (1959-62)

Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward to modernize the Chinese economy (1957–60) caused a famine from misguided farm and industrial policies in which tens of millions died. Mao brought tragedy to China on an epic scale. He was convinced drive industrial output could be driven past Britain and achieve autonomy from the USSR on which China was dependent on for technology. Mao not only failed with industry from agicultural failure on a vast scale. The ineffeiceny of Chinese agriculturewas perpetual problem in China with millions living on the edge of surviva; When combined with the ineffiencies of Communism--the greatest famine in world history occurred. Mao brought tragedy to China on an epic scale.Some 10-55 million people may have died in the ensuing famine. Mao's plan involved 'modernising' agriculture and increasing grain production. Land lords and many of the better farmers had been executed. Farm workers and peasants with small plots were collectivised into huge communes of about 25,000 people. They were required to turn over to the state a large portion of their crops. Officials vommonly exaggerated the size of harvests. As a result, the entire grain harvest of some comunes was seized together with livestock, vegetables and cash crops. China's leaders claim to hae been unaware of the severity of the famine despite the fact it continued from 1958 until 1961. The Government doubled its grain exports to earn hard currency and cut food imports.

Biafra (1967-70)

The most serious outbreak of ethnic and regional cobflict was the deadly Biafran War also called the Nigerian Civil War. This occurred only a few years after independence (1967-70). Three southeastern states secede as the Republic of Biafra (July 6, 1967). The Igbo people aspired for their own independent state. The Christian Igbo leadership felt that they could no coexist with the Northern-dominated and Muslim-influence Federal government. The conflict was the result of political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions which predated indeoendence. The precipitaying evenys was the 1966 military coup, a counter-coup, and ongoing persecution of Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. Control over oil production in the Niger Delta have the Igbo a vital strategic asset. The Igbo manaaged to seize control of the three state which they dominated, but meanwhile Federal forces managed to surrounded Biafra, capture the coastal oil facilities, and the important port city of Port Harcourt. This enabled the Federal forces to blockae Biafra. which was not self sufficient in food producrion. This meant that the Biafrans could not imprt neeed weapons and amunition, but msr disaterouly the food needed by the population. A terrible famine resulted. Starvation became an important strategy of the Federal Government. Some two million Biafran civilians are believed to have perished from starvation and diseases. The War was not closely followed in the Wst until photigraphs of malnourished and starving children suddenly appeared in th international press (mid-1968). The tragedy of starving Biafran children became a cause célèbre. Iinternational non-governmental organisations raised mpney for a relief effort. Britain and the Soviet Union backed the Federal Military Government in Lagos. France and some non-govermental groups supported Biafra. The Biafras managed to smuggle some arms in, but this became increaingly difficulr as they lost territory. Finally Biafran leaders surrendered (January 15, 1970) and the three secesionist states are reintegrated into the country (1970).

Ethiopia (1973-74)

The economy of Ethiopia even in the late-20th century continued to be based on subsistence agriculture. The aristocracy consumed most of the surplus. The Ethiopian peasants lacked incentives to either improve farming methods or to store their excess harvest. They lived from harvest to harvest. They amounted to approximately the great majority of the population and still do. Famines occured in northern Ethiopia erlier: Amhara and Tigray (1913-14), Amhara (1929), Tigray (1958), and Amhara (1966). Famine struck again in northern Amhara (1973). The Amhara Region is the most important agricultural region of Ethiopia. The Amhara Highlands receive something like 80 percent of the country's total rainfall. It is by far the most fertile and well watered region of Ethiopia. Laka Tana, the source of the Blue Nile is located in Amhara at Bahir Dar. The flow of the Blue Nile reaches maximum volume in the rainy season (June to September) and supplies about two-thirds of the water of the Egypt's famed Nile. The Blue Nile, along with the Atbara River to the north, which also flows out of the Ethiopian Highlands, cause the annual Nile floods that made the Nile so fertile and was the basis of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The 1972 harvest was poor. Poor rainfall triggered the 1973-74 famine. Some 300,000 people, predominantly the northern peasantry, died during the famine. [UN FAO] The lack of rain resulted in a harvest failure, but many other factors contributd to the death toll. It was not that there was notfood avilable in Ethiopia. The drought that caused the harvest failure only affected northern Ethiopia, particularly Amhara. Starvation ensued, because little food from the Ethiopian a regions not affected by the drought. The suffering peasants did not have money to purchase food. Ethiopia lacked the infrastructure and the will to transport large quantities of food to Amhara and destribute it to the starving peasantry. One author estimates that there were only 14,000 miles of road in the country and only a third of that all weather. [Jansson, Harris, and Penrose] Some 90 percent of the population lived more than a day’s walk from a road. The Imperial Government made no real effort to save the starving peasants. Failure to respond to the crisis was a major factor leading to the fall of the Imperial government and the rise of the Communist Derg (1974). Tragically the Derg proved even more deadly to the Ethiopian peasantry.

Cambodia (1975-79)

Some 1.5-2.0 million Cambodians died of famine following a decade of conflict associatedwith the Vietnam war. The brutal al Khmer Rouge took power (1975). They introduced incoherent economic policies, essentially turning the whole country into a slae labor camp. The Vietnames invaded and drove out the Kymer rouge.

North Korea (1995-99)

Some 3-4 million North Koreans died because of a long-lasting famine. The immediate cause was a flood, but Goverment collectivization had resulted in food shortages for years.

Sources

Devereux, Stephen. Famine in the 20th Century (Institute of Development Studies, UK ).










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Created: 11:53 PM 8/14/2016
Last updated: 12:25 AM 10/23/2020