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faminewidespread food shortages leading to starvation and a high death rate within a given population. During a famine people die not only of hunger but from a variety of diseases to which they become increasingly vulnerable. Sen (1981) has argued that starvation arises from the condition of people not having enough to eat, and not as a result of there not being enough food to eat. Famine generally occurs when there is a sudden collapse of the level of food consumption, rather than as the result of a longterm decline, and people die because of the lack of time available to counteract the factors that lead to low consumption. It rarely occurs that a population is without any food (the Netherlands under German occupation during World War II may be one example), rather, Sen argues that it is changes in people's entitlement to food which is altered. Thus famine is linked to the distribution as well as the production of food, and the vulnerability of some groups, rather than others, within a population. Historically, famine has been precipitated by events such as serious floods or pestilence, but in the 20th-century major famines have been closely associated with warfare, as with Ethiopia and Mozambique in the 1970s and 80s, or with profound political upheavals, as with the consolidation of Stalinism in the 1930s in the USSR, and Maoism in China in the late 1950s. In all of these cases, however, only some social groups lost their entitlement to food, whilst others retained theirs or acquired new ones.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000