Top 8 Heartbreaking Famines in the History of Earth

Indian refugees flee Burma along the Prome Road from Rangoon to Mandalay and eventually on to India, January 1942

We are continuing our top worst natural disasters on earth series. The first part of the series focussed on the worst pandemics while the second part revolved around the 8 Deadliest Earthquakes recorded in the history of mankind.

I am taking over the third part of this series because I want to teach the next generation the value of freedom. First two parts were written by Olivia Abbe. Let’s begin.

  1. Bengal Famine of 1943: The Bengal famine of 1943 was the worst modern day famine in the history of mankind. An estimated 2.1–3 million, out of a population of 60.3 million, died of starvation, malaria, or other diseases aggravated by malnutrition, population displacement, unsanitary conditions and lack of health care. Millions were impoverished as the crisis overwhelmed large segments of the economy and catastrophically disrupted the social fabric. The famine was “man-made”, wartime colonial policies of Winston Churchill created and then exacerbated the crisis. There was no hero in WW II. Hitler, Stalin killed millions in Europe and Russia and Winston Churchill killed millions in India.

    Death Toll: 2.1-3 Million
  2. Great Famine of 1876–1878: The Great Famine of 1876–1878 (also the Southern India famine of 1876–1878 or the Madras famine of 1877) was a famine in India under the British rule. It began in 1876 after an intense drought resulting in crop failure in the Deccan Plateau. It affected south and southwestern India (the British presidencies of Madras and Bombay, and the princely states of Mysore and Hyderabad) for a period of two years. In its second year famine also spread northward to some regions of the Central Provinces and the North-Western Provinces, and to a small area in the Punjab. The famine ultimately covered an area of 670,000 square kilometres (257,000 sq mi) and caused distress to a population totalling 58,500,000. The death toll from this famine is estimated to be in the range of 5.5 to 10.3 million people.

    Death Toll: 5.5-10.3 million
  3. 4.2 kiloyear event: The 4.2-kiloyear BP aridification event was one of the most severe climatic events of the Holocene epoch. It defines the beginning of the current Meghalayan age in the Holocene epoch. Starting in about 2200 BC, it probably lasted the entire 22nd century BC. It has been hypothesised to have caused the collapse of the Old Kingdom in Egypt as well as the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, and the Liangzhu culture in the lower Yangtze River area. The drought may also have initiated the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation as well.

    Death Toll: Unknown
  4. Extreme weather events of 535–536: The extreme weather events of 535–536 were the most severe and protracted short-term episodes of cooling in the Northern Hemisphere in the last 2,000 years. The event is thought to have been caused by an extensive atmospheric dust veil, possibly resulting from a large volcanic eruption in the tropics. Its effects were widespread, causing unseasonable weather, crop failures, and famines worldwide.

    Death Toll: 5 Million+
  5. Russian famine of 1601–03: The Russian famine of 1601–1603 was Russia’s worst famine in terms of proportional effect on the population, killing perhaps two million people, about 30% of the Russian people. The famine compounded the Time of Troubles, when the country was unsettled politically and later invaded by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The many deaths contributed to social disruption and helped bring about the downfall of Boris Godunov, who had been elected tsar during the interregnum. The famine was part of worldwide record cold winters and crop disruption, which geologists in 2008 linked to the 1600 volcanic eruption of Huaynaputina in Peru.

    Death Toll: 2 million+ (30% of the then Russian Population)
  6. Great Bengal famine of 1770: Islamic invasion and British occupation has destroyed Bengal multiple times. The Great Bengal Famine of 1770 was a famine between 1769 and 1773 (1176 to 1180 in the Bengali calendar) that affected the lower Gangetic plain of India from Bihar to the Bengal region. The famine is estimated to have caused the deaths of about 10 million people. A third of the population in the affected region starved to death. The famine was the result of the Mughal and British policies who were willingly destroying the local Bengali population.
  7. Great Chinese Famine: The Great Chinese Famine was a period in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) between the years 1959 and 1961 characterized by widespread famine. Some scholars have also included the year 1958 or 1962. The Great Chinese Famine is widely regarded as the deadliest famine and one of the greatest man-made disasters in human history, with an estimated death toll due to starvation ranges in the tens of millions. The major contributing factors in the famine were the communist policies of the Great Leap Forward (1958 to early 1960s) and People’s commune, in addition to some natural disasters such as droughts which took place during the period.

    Death Toll: At least 45 million
  8. Great Famine (Ireland): The Great Famine, or the Great Hunger, was a period of mass starvation and disease in Ireland from 1845 to 1849. With the most severely affected areas in the west and south of Ireland, where the Irish language was dominant, the period was contemporaneously known in Irish as An Drochshaol, loosely translated as the “hard times” (or literally, “The Bad Life”). The worst year of the period was 1847, known as “Black ’47”. During the famine, about one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.

    Death Toll: around 1 million

Source: Wikipedia, Britannica, Indian History Archives

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