Unlike Sen, I consider that one cannot discuss
famines without constantly taking into account aggregate food supply. For
this reason, I would like to distinguish several degrees of shortage:
- No shortage
- there is enough food to go round and famine can only occur if there is
- First degree shortage
- there is sufficient food to provide a barely adequate diet for everyone,
provided that there is rationing. If there is not, some sections of the
population will suffer from serious malnutrition or starvation.
- Second degree shortage
- there is insufficient food for long-term survival, but rationing would
keep most of the population alive, though suffering from deficiency diseases,
until the next harvest.
- Third degree shortage
- there is insufficient food for long-term survival. If everyone were given
a bare survival ration, food would run out before the next harvest. Mass
starvation is inevitable without imports.
Since there is always some maldistribution, the
situation will always be worse than this classification indicates. Even
when there is no shortage, some people suffer from malnutrition.
By definition, a redistribution famine of the type
Sen describes can only occur if there is no shortage or, perhaps, if there
is a first degree shortage - if the shortage is any worse, there is a famine
anyway. This means that to say a famine is of the redistribution type is
not only to diagnose the cause, but also to assert that there is really
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