Famine is a complex process of social breakdown involving acute poverty, disruption of the food consumption process, and the occurrence of hunger in its various forms. Although it is typically associated with sudden mass mortality due to starvation, this is not an essential feature; those who have experienced famine tend to characterize it as a phenomenon of increasing vulnerability and the collapse of coping strategies rather than death. The potential for famine, which often is “triggered” by weather events, economic and political “shocks,” or war and conflict, resides in a range of social relations and structures, including commodity and labor markets, land tenure systems, oppressive and unequal race and gender relations, political rights, systems of government, foreign debt, and class capacity. The major social effects of famine involve demographic (e.g., decrease in fertility, increase in deaths, delayed marriages, migration), economic (loss of income and assets), and public health (susceptibility to such as human immunodeficiency virus/acquired [HIV/AIDS]) impacts.

It is not readily apparent when famines begin and end, but over the past two decades a clear geographic pattern is discernible, marked by occurrences or near occurrences in East Africa (e.g., Somalia, Ethiopia [both on repeated occasions]), Southern Africa (e.g., Zimbabwe), North Korea, Afghanistan, Central America (e.g., Nicaragua, Honduras), and Haiti.

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