Pub. date: 2008 | Online Pub. Date: May 28, 2008 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412963930 | Print ISBN: 9781412941655 | Online ISBN: 9781412963930| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Famines are complex processes, usually arising from a combination of several causes over an extended period. Their effects on different households and social groups vary greatly according to levels of anticipation and preparedness, capacity to cope with sustained adversity, and ability to return to previous livelihood patterns once the crisis period has passed. The difficulty of pinpointing critical causes and effects, other than on a case-by-case basis, makes it hard to define what famine is or when it starts and stops. As a result, there are no agreed-on mechanisms to trigger appropriate interventions to prevent or mitigate famines, and the question of responsibility for relief is normative and politicized. The simplest way to define famine is as a significant increase in mortality from starvation or starvation-related disease over an extensive geographical area. This is hard to measure, however, because famines often occur in regions where mortality rates are variable and ...