Definition of Famine

Definitions of famine vary but all contain the necessary elements of widespread inaccessibility to food leading to mass numbers of starved individuals. Importantly, lack of access is not equivalent to nonavailability of food within a region, as most famines occur amidst food stocks sufficient to feed the afflicted population. More comprehensive definitions of famine may include elements of time dependency (e.g., steady, continuous erosion of or sudden collapse in food available for consumption), partial causation (e.g., due to natural calamity, armed conflict, or convergence of other complex causal events), class (e.g., affecting certain ethnic, geographic, economic or occupational groups more than others), and health consequence on a population scale (e.g., accompanied by epidemics of disease and high mortality) or other population responses (e.g., mass migration). While poverty-stricken communities tend to view famine as a continuum of increasing loss and oppression that typically begins long before mass casualty, formal 'external' definitions tend to invoke thresholds or shocks involving sudden inflections in trends for events that afflict large numbers of people. These may include spikes in prices of staple grains, levels of violence, destitution, mortality from starvation and infectious disease, and migratory movement. Threshold events tend to distinguish famine, which upon declaration demands a massive relief response, from endemic, chronic food deprivation, which results from extreme poverty, political corruption, developmental neglect and food insecurity and which leads to chronic, high rates of malnutrition, disease, and mortality. Yet, these factors are ones that, often when acting together, predispose underserved populations of the developing world to risk of famine. Such conditioning factors are antecedent causal elements that require more continuous, sensitive, and specific indicators to detect as well as a set of longer term economic, political, and developmental solutions to prevent. Whether continuous and evolving or more sudden, unleashed famine - where thresholds have been transgressed by masses of people -is catastrophic, distinct, and a human tragedy of unparaleled proportion.

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