It is not enough to issue ration books if there is no food. It is not enough to import food or to stock distribution depots if people cannot afford to buy the food. In all famines prices rise, so the poor cannot buy food and they starve, while other people sell all their possessions to buy food impoverishing themselves. For this reason famine relief measures typically include provisions like the following, which were laid down in the Bengal Famine Code and which were applied in Bengal in 1941, 1942 and 1943. (See Bengal Famine Code (1895), Famine Commission (1945a p69). See also K.C. Ghost(1944) for similar relief measures being used in Bombay in 1629-30.)

  1. Gratuitous relief - supply of gruel, uncooked food grains and cash as public assistance to those with no money and unable to work.
  2. Wages in kind or cash paid for work on famine relief work such as building roads, dams or canals. The work required was according to the physical condition of the recipient, and he was paid by the day, not according to his output. Non-manual jobs were provided for "respectable men" who suffered from the famine and appropriate jobs were given to artisans.
  3. Agricultural loans to prevent small farmers from impoverishing themselves and selling up their land, animals or equipment. These were earmarked for
    - maintenance (in kind or cash)
    - purchase of cattle (in cash)
    - agricultural operations (in kind or cash)
  4. Loans to artisans, as their businesses suffer when their customers have to spend their income on foods alone. They also find it difficult to buy raw materials.
  5. Loans to weavers for raw materials, and subsidised prices for their product.
  6. Sale of food grains at subsidised prices to the poor, in order to protect those who had allowed for normal prices.

It will be noted that money was given rather than grain in order to reduce the costs of administering distribution to isolated recipients. The same is being done in Ethiopia today (Harden, 1985). This might be appropriate in a purely redistributional, Sen-type, famine. However the possible effects on prices even in a first-degree shortage are worrying, and in a second-degree shortage one might expect a dramatic rise in prices with no improvement in distribution.

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