crops in another. In tropical countries drought is the commonest cause of a failure in the harvest, and where great droughts are not uncommon—as in parts of India and Australia—the hydraulic engineer comes to the rescue by devising systems of water-storage and irrigation. It is less easy to provide against the evils of excessive rainfall and of frost, hail and the like. The experience of the French in Algiers shows that it is possible to stamp out a plague of locusts, such as is the greatest danger to the farmer in many parts of Argentina. But the ease with which food can nowadays be transported from one part of the world to another minimizes the danger of famine from natural causes, as we can hardly conceive that the whole food-producing area of the world should be thus affected at once.
The artificial causes of famine have mostly ceased to be operative on any large scale. Chief among them is war, which may cause a shortage of food-supplies, either by its direct ravages or by depleting the supply of agricultural labour. But only local famines are likely to arise from this cause. Legislative interference with agricultural operations or with the distribution of food-supplies, currency restrictions and failure of transport, which have all caused famines in the past, are unlikely thus to operate again; nor is it probable that the modern speculators who attempt to make “corners” in wheat could produce the evil effects contemplated in the old statutes against forestallers and regrators.
Such local famines as may occur in the 20th century will probably be attributable to natural causes. It is impossible to regulate the rainfall of any district, or wholly to supply its failure by any system of water-storage. Irrigation is better able to bring fertility to a naturally arid district than to avert the failure of crops in one which is naturally fertile. The true palliative of famine is to be found in the improvement of methods of transport, which make it possible rapidly to convey food from one district to another. But the efficiency of this preventive stops short at the point of saving human life. It cannot prevent a rise in prices, with the consequent suffering among the poor. Still, every year makes it less likely that the world will see a renewal of the great famines of the past, and it is only the countries where civilization is still backward that are in much danger of even a local famine.
Great Famines.—Amongst the great famines of history may be named the following:—
|B.C.||436||Famine at Rome, when thousands of starving people threw themselves into the Tiber.|
|A.D.||42||Great famine in Egypt.|
|650||Famine throughout India.|
Great famines in India, in which entire provinces were depopulated and man was driven to cannibalism.
|1005||Famine in England.|
|1016||Famine throughout Europe.|
|1064–1072||Seven years’ famine in Egypt.|
|1148–1159||Eleven years’ famine in India.|
Great famine in India, when the Mogul emperor was unable to obtain the necessaries for his household. The famine continued for years and thousands upon thousands of people perished of want.
|1396–1407||The Durga Devi famine in India, lasting twelve years.|
|1586||Famine in England which gave rise to the Poor Law system.|
|1661||Famine in India, when not a drop of rain fell for two years.|
|1769–1770||Great famine in Bengal, when a third of the population (10,000,000 persons) perished.|
The Chalisa famine in India, which extended from the eastern edge of the Benares province to Lahore and Jammu.
The Doji Bara, or skull famine, in India, so-called because the people died in such numbers that they could not be buried. According to tradition this was one of the severest famines ever known. It extended over the whole of Bombay into Hyderabad and affected the northern districts of Madras. Relief works were first opened during this famine in Madras.
|1838||Intense famine in North-West Provinces (United Provinces) of India; 800,000 perished.|
Famine in Ireland, due to the failure of the potato-crop. Grants were made by parliament amounting to £10,000,000.
|1861||Famine in North-West India.|
|1866||Famine in Bengal and Orissa; one million perished.|
|1869||Intense famine in Rajputana; one million and a half perished. The government initiated the policy of saving life.|
|1874||Famine in Behar, India. Government relief in excess of the needs of the people.|
|1876–1878||Famine in Bombay, Madras and Mysore; five millions perish. Relief insufficient.|
|1877–1878||Severe famine in north China. Nine and a half millions said to have perished.|
|1887–1889||Famine in China.|
|1891–1892||Famine in Russia.|
|1897||Famine in India. Government policy of saving life successful. Mansion House fund £550,000.|
Famine in India. One million people perished. Estimated loss to India £50,000,000. The government spent £10,000,000 on relief, and at one time there were 4,500,000 people on the relief works.
|1905||Famine in Russia.|
Famines in India.—Owing to its tropical situation and its almost entire dependence upon the monsoon rains, India is more liable than any other country in the world to crop failures, which upon occasion deepen into famine. Every year sufficient rain falls in India to secure an abundant harvest if it were evenly distributed over the whole country; but as a matter of fact the distribution is so uneven and so uncertain that every year some district suffers from insufficient rainfall. In fact, famine is, to all intents and purposes, endemic in India, and is a problem to reckon with every year in some portion of that vast area. The people depend so entirely upon agriculture, and the harvest is so entirely destroyed by a single monsoon failure, that wherever a total failure occurs the landless labourer is immediately thrown out of work and remains out of work for the whole year. The question is thus one of lack of employment, rather than lack of food. The food is there, perhaps at a slightly enhanced price, but the unemployed labourer has no money to buy it. The problem is very much the same as that met by the British Poor Law system. Every year in England a poor rate of some £22,000,000 is expended for a population of 40 millions; while it is only in an exceptional year in India that £10,000,000 are spent on a population of 300 millions.
Famines seem to recur in India at periodical intervals, which have been held to be in some way dependent on the sun-spot period. Every five or ten years the annual scarcity widens its area and becomes a recognized famine; every fifty or a hundred years whole provinces are involved, loss of life becomes widespread, and a great famine is recorded. In the 140 years since Warren Hastings initiated British rule in India, there have been nineteen famines and five severe scarcities. For the period preceding British rule the records have not been so well preserved, but there is ample evidence to show that famine was just as frequent in its incidence and infinitely more deadly in its effects under the native rulers of India. In the great Bengal famine of 1769–1770, which occurred shortly after the foundation of British rule, but while the native officials were still in power, a third of the population, or ten millions out of thirty millions, perished. From this it may be guessed what occurred in the centuries under Mogul rule, when for years there was no rain, when famine lasted for three, four or twelve years, and entire cities were left without an inhabitant. In the famine of 1901, the worst of recent years, the loss of life in British districts was 3% of the population affected, as against 33% in the Bengal famine of 1770.
The native rulers of India seem to have made no effort to relieve the sufferings of their subjects in times of famine; and even down to 1866 the British government had no settled famine policy. In that year the Orissa famine awakened the public conscience, and the commission presided over by Sir George Campbell laid down the lines upon which subsequent famine-relief was organized. In the Rajputana famine of 1869 the humane principle of saving every possible life was first