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The Worst Droughts and Famines in History

Wiping out portions of the populations in these unfortunate areas, the worst droughts and famines in history date back several centuries and chronicle some of the worst natural disasters on record. What are the worst droughts in history? Sadly, droughts and famines still occur to this day with starvation and malnutrition an unfavorable reality in many parts of the world.

What are the worst famines of all time? Famine and drought differ from other devastating natural disasters like the worst earthquakes and the most destructive tornadoes in the length of time of the suffering. Tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis last a matter of minutes, while famine and drought can last years at a time. Similarly, as many other natural disasters are considered acts of God, many of these historical famines were party caused by poor policies by local governments.

To put things in perspective a bit more, the deaths from the worst famine in history greatly exceed all the deaths in the worst earthquakes of the 21st century combined. Affecting China from 1958 to 1961, the recent Great Chinese Famine claimed an estimated 43 million lives. That is more than the entire modern population of Canada.

As sad as it is, if nothing else, this history of famine and drought has brought awareness to the ongoing issues of malnutrition and starvation. While both continue to this day, there are also organizations and charities trying their best to end this unfortunate reality.

The Worst Droughts and Famines in History Historical Events
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    Great Chinese Famine

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    Lasting three years from 1958 to 1961, the Great Chinese Famine is the worst on record. While statistics of the loss of life are disputed, as few as 15 million and as many as 43 million were killed as a result.

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    Chinese Famine of 1907

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    Coming in second, a brief but deadly famine hit China in 1907 and is accordingly known as the Chinese Famine of 1907. In a matter of months an estimated 24 million people were killed.

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    Indian Famine

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    Affecting the presidencies and provinces of British India, the Indian Famine was a six-year event that took place between 1896 and 1902. One of many famines to hit India throughout the years, this one was the worst, claiming an estimated 19 million lives.

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    Bengal Famine of 1770

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    Killing one-third of the population of Bengal over a five-year period, the Bengal Famine of 1770 took place between 1969 and 1773 in what is now parts of Bangladesh. An estimated 15 million perished in the famine, which was blamed on greedy principles from the British East India Company's rule.

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    Northern Chinese Famine

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    As the name suggests, the Northern Chinese Famine affected the northern portion of the country of China. As the fifth-worst famine in history, this disaster lasted from 1876 to 1879 and is believed to have killed 13 million people.

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    Indian Great Famine of 1876-–78

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    Known simply as the Great Famine of 1876–78, this tragedy that took the lives of as many as 10.3 million, affected over 250,000 square miles in India. The two-year famine also distressed over 58 million in the Madras, Mysore, Hyderabad and Bombay areas.

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    Great European Famine

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    Creating the worst famine ever seen in Europe, the Great Famine of 1315–1317, also known as the Great European Famine, was actually a series of crises. The tragedy, that killed an estimated 7.5 million people, was caused by strange weather and unrelenting rains.

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    Soviet Famine of 1932-–33

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    Affecting the top grain-producing areas of the Soviet Union over several months, the Soviet famine of 1932–1933 is remembered by some as the Holodomor, a term that translates to "hungry mass death." Between seven and 10 million were killed in the area, which is now part of the Ukraine and Siberia, among other areas.

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    Chinese Famine of 1936

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    Hitting China over a few months in 1936, the Asian country lost an estimated five million people during the Chinese Famine of 1936. This incident was one of several to affect China during the first part of the 20th century.

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    Russian Famine of 1921

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    Though it may have killed as many as 10 million, the Russian Famine of 1921 is considered to have resulted in five million deaths. This disaster affected the Volga-Ural region and was believed to be as a result of hard times during Word War I.

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    Chinese Drought 1941

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    The worst disaster on this list completely attributed to a drought, or lack of rainfall, the Chinese Drought 1941 prevented millions from growing and consuming crops in China that year. As a result, an estimated three million perished.

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    Chinese Famine of 1928–-30

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    Adding to the list of disasters in China during the first half of the 20th century, the Chinese Famine of 1928–1930 killed an estimated three million people over the three-year span.

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    Russian Famine of 1601–-03

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    Killing one-third of the population, the Russian Famine of 1601-03 is the worst to hit the country in terms of fatalities, killing as many as two million. A combination of a crop disruption from the erupting volcano of Huaynaputina in Peru and record cold weather was believed to be the cause.

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    Vietnamese Famine of 1945

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    Taking place from October 1944 to May 1945 during World War II, the Vietnamese Famine of 1945 occurred from a combination of the war, poor government management, floods and droughts. Overall, between 400,000 and two million perished as a result.

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    Deccan Famine of 1630-–32

    Occurring after three-consecutive crop failures, the Deccan Famine of 1630-32 was one of the worst to take place in India. Over the three-year period, an estimated two million perished, mainly in the Deccan region of Central India.

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    Bengal Famine of 1943

    Killing between 1.4 and 4 million people, the Bengal Famine of 1943 was one of the deadliest times for the region, which is part of India. Several factors created the tragic event, including war and policy issues by the government.

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    North Korean Famine

    Also called the Arduous March or the March of Tribulation, the North Korean Famine started in the early 1990s and killed as many as 3.5 million by 1997. As one of the most recent famines, it killed as much as 15% of the 22 million people in the region.

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    Great Irish Famine

    Known also as the Irish Potato Famine, the Great Irish Famine took place between 1845 and 1852 in the country of Ireland. The rough period, caused by a potato disease that ravaged crops, caused the area to lose as much as 25% of its population with one million in fatalities and another one million in residents who emigrated as a result.

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    1984–-85 Famine in Ethiopia

    Affecting what is now Eritrea and Ethiopia, the 1984–85 Famine in Ethiopia killed an estimated one million people in the region. Low rainfall, combined with poor government management, is believed to be the cause.

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    Horn of Africa Famine

    Just as the region is experiencing a devastating famine in the 21st century, the Horn of Africa area experienced a deadly famine in 1888. Over one million reportedly died during that time in the areas of Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia.

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