Weird History

The Worst Droughts and Famines in History  

Drake Bird
333.6k views 25 items

Wiping out portions of the populations of 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, while many other natural disasters are unpreventable, many of these historical famines were partly caused by poor policies by local governments. Major famines in countries like India and the Ukraine were largely manmade. 

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. The longest famines and droughts have devastated communities, often affecting the poorest regions most of all. 

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.

Spanish Drought (2014) is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Worst Droughts and Famines in History
Photo: Colin C Wheeler/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0 ES
Spanish Drought (2014)

Death Toll: None

While there were no lives lost, the 2014 Spanish drought had frightening implications for the future. The worst drought in over 150 years, Spain saw its rainfall reach just 25 percent of average levels in some major cities. Water reservoirs depleted dramatically. While reservoirs are usually at 70 to 90 percent capacity, one major reservoir fell down to only 54 percent. Due to a changing climate, the future of the region is uncertain, but many scientists are predicting worse droughts will come. This could threaten the future of Spain's water supplies. 

Somalia/East Africa Famine and... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Worst Droughts and Famines in History
Photo: Oxfam East Africa/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0
Somalia/East Africa Famine and Drought (2011)

Death Toll: 260,000 

Primarily affecting Somalia, a severe drought led to a famine throughout East Africa in 2011. The death toll came to an estimated 260,000, and not just because of famine conditions. Aid from western countries was slow to arrive, in part due to the fact the militant Islamist group al-Shabab - alligned with al-Qaeda - was in control of Somalia at the time. Al-Shabab denied the famine and banned all western aid, allowing the famine to spread to other areas. While aid eventually did arrive - and the famine officially ended in 2012 - the slow response allowed the famine to spread throughout eastern Africa. 


Syria (2006 - 2010)
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Video: YouTube

Death Toll: Unknown 

The effects of the 2006 drought in Syria remain ongoing, so the death toll remains unclear. Scientists have determined, however, climate change was a major factor. While a variety of other factors - such as natural fluctuations in temperature and unsustainable farming practices - contributed to the drought, recent studies indicate a strong link between worldwide changing temperatures and Syrian water shortages. Roughly 60% of Syria's land experienced a severe drought, lasting until 2011. 

The Syrian drought was a major contributing factor to the current political turmoil in Syria. Many Syrians - left without food and other resources - drove many rural citizens into the cities. This occurred just after millions of Iraq refugees, fleeing the country due to the United States invasion, caused a huge population shock in 2006. The stress helped contributing Bashar al-Assad's 2011 uprising and the subsequent civil war that has devastated the country. 


North Korean Famine (1990s)
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Video: YouTube

Death Toll: Unknown 

The famine that swept through North Korea throughout the 1990s remains enigmatic today. North Korea has never publicly acknowledged the disaster. Due to the isolated nature of the country, worldwide knowledge of what occurred is very limited. The precise causes, dates, and death toll are unknown, but reports of starving people roaming North Korean streets surfaced in the 1990s. 

It is likely the famine's roots go back to 1948, when the country was founded. North Korea's farmland and climate are not ideal for crop production, but the country was able to rely on imported food from the Soviet Union for survival. However, the fall of the Soviet Union drastically reduced North Korea's access to cheap and reliable resources. The country, founded in the spirit of total self reliance, largely refused any outside help. This, and flooding caused by warm weather patterns, drastically reduced food. 

Eventually, North Korea requested food aid from the international community, which alleviated the famine. North Korea continues to rely on international aid to feed their citizens to this day.