Great Bengal Famine of 1943

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The Great Bengal Famine of 1943 took place in the modern day nation of Bangladesh and the modern Indian state of West Bengal. Between the end of 1942 and into 1944, an estimated 1.5-3 million people died of starvation or causes related to malnutrition.[1]

"Different interpretations of the causes of the famine can be found. Was the famine the result of lack of physical supplies of food grains, especially rice? Alternatively, was the famine produced by a series of policy decisions in which the Governments of Bengal and India mismanaged the procurement and delivery of supplies, which in fact were adequate for the population? Yet another interpretation, from economist Amartya Sen, argued that the famine was not caused by a lack of physical supplies of grain but by a drop in the purchasing power of the wages of laborers dependent upon grain.
"According to Henry Knight, a member of the Indian Civil Service who served as adviser to the governor of Bombay from 1939 to 1945, the basic food problem in India was feeding those who did not raise their own food: city dwellers, shopkeepers, artisans, clerks, pensioners, and landless laborers. Only about 30 percent of the food grains produced in India came onto the market, and these supplies plus about 1 million tons of imported food grains (about 1.4 percent of total supplies) were the lifeblood of the dependent population...
"Other factors possible importance included the occupation of Burma by Japan in April 1942, which eliminated Burma's regular exports of rice to Bengal. In addition, a cyclone in October followed by outbreaks of fungal diseases destroyed perhaps one-third of the grain that was supposed to be harvested in November and December. Confusion caused by the imposition and removal of controlled marketing during 1943 sent mixed signals to farmers, dealers, and consumers. In addition, the government of Bengal implemented the plan advocated in the Bengal Chamber of Commerce Food Stuffs Scheme, which placed Calcutta's industries and workforce as priority customers so as not to divert attention from wartime production goals; Calcutta was thus a haven of food security, in contrast to the scarcity areas in the countryside."[2]

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  1. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 159
  2. John H. Perkins, Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 159-160

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