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Theories of famines

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Theories of famines

The conventional explanation until 1981 for the cause of famines was the decline of food availability (abbreviated as FAD for food availability decline). The assumption was that the central cause of all famines was a decline in food availability.[1] However this does not explain why only a certain section of the population such as the agricultural laborer was affected by famines while others were insulated from famines.[2]

Failure of exchange entitlements

It has been suggested that the causal mechanism for precipitating starvation includes many variables other than just decline of food availability such as the inability of an agricultural laborer to exchange his primary entitlement, i.e., labor for rice when his employment became erratic or was completely eliminated.[2] Per the proposed theory, famines are caused due to a breakdown of the ability of a person to exchange his entitlements rather than due to food availability decline.[2] This theory is called the failure of exchange entitlements or FEE.

Lack of democracy

Amartya Sen advances the theory that lack of democracy and famines are inter-related citing the example of the Bengal famine of 1943, stating that it was made viable only because of the lack of democracy in India under British rule. He further argues that the situation was aggravated by the British government's suspension of trade in rice and grains between various Indian provinces.[3]

Olivier Rubin's review of the evidence disagrees with Sen; after examining the cases of post-Independence India, Niger, and Malawi, he finds that "democracy is no panacea against famine." Rubin's analysis questions whether democracy and a free press were sufficient to truly avert famine in 1967 and 1972 (the Maharashtra famine involved some 130,000 deaths), and notes that some dynamics of electoral democracy complicate rather than bring about famine relief efforts. Rubin does not address colonial period famines.[4]

On the other hand, Andrew Banik's study Starvation and India's democracy affirms Sen's thesis, but indicates that while democracy has been able to prevent famines in India, it has not been sufficient to avoid severe under-nutrition and starvation deaths, which Banik calls a 'silent emergency' in the country.[5]

See also

Notes

References

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