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Famine, Geography of

  • By: David Nally
  • In: Encyclopedia of Geography
  • Edited by: Barney Warf
  • Subject:General Geography, Earth & Environmental Science

Anyone attempting to define famine must be aware of the significant challenges involved. Definitions involve distinctions, but in the case of famine, such distinctions are especially fraught, not just because relief operations require “definitional clarity” but because the capacity to assign and apply meaning can be a powerful tool used to obscure or deny the violence done unto others. Indeed, some of the most destructive famines have been mystified, concealed, and disclaimed by making false and fallacious claims about the precise nature and cause of the disaster.

The definition and meaning of famine have changed with time. In the 18th century, demographer and economist Thomas Malthus argued that because the food supply was relatively inflexible, natural tendencies would increase the population at a much faster rate ...

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