Working Paper
Ethiopian Famines 1973-1985

A Case-Study

The paper studies the experience of Ethiopia with regard to the two major famines the country has witnessed in the last fifteen years. It is argued that the entitlements approach developed by Amartya Sen provides a useful analytical framework within which to place the experience of Ethiopia during the famines of 1972-75 and 1982-85 even though these crises were largely caused by declines in food availability rather than by distributional shifts. The destitution of different occupational groups in the course of the famines can be understood in terms of the collapse of specific kinds of entitlements to food. The paper also provides a discussion of the social and demographic impact of the famines and of the short and longer term imperatives of a relief strategy to deal with their effects. The relevance of the Ethiopian experience in the context of more general discussions of hunger and starvation is emphasized in the concluding section.