Social Scientist. v 11, no. 123 (Aug 1983) p. 66.


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BOOK REVIEW

AMARTYA SEN, POVERTY AND -FAMINES—AN ESSAY ON ENTITLEMENT AND DEPRIVATION, Clarendon Press; Oxford, 1-9&1.

PROFESSOR SEN'S book is both an empirical study of some famines-including the Bengal famine of 1943 and! the more recent B^ngl^desh famine of 1974—and an exposition pf the concept of 'entitlement'^ Both the theoretical and ithe empirical parts of the study deserve attention on their own ground'," but the issue Whe examined is the contribution that the entitlenwnt approach make^ to an understanding of the phenomenon of famines.

Sen does not define 'famines' although he refers to various definitions (pp 39 and 40) but prefers to use it and the related term 'starvation5 "in their inbst common English sanse'\ Starvation is then used in the sense of people going without adequate food and famine as a peculiarly virulent manifestation of it causing widespread death. From this it follows that "famines imply starvation, but not vice versa53. Sen's attempt in the book is to challenge the view that famines are caused by food availability decline (referred to as the FAD view in the tibok).

In the tout case studies that he reports of famines—the Bengal famine of 1943, the Ethiopian famine (or famines) of 1972-1974, the Sahelian famine of 1973 and the Bengladesh famine of 1974—Sen brings together information of a wide variety from different sources (both official and non-official) relating to the famine phenomenon. This is a very valuable contribution of the booK. In terms of hi^ objective, his conclusion is that in three cases the famines were not caused by FAD, the exception being the famine in the Sahelian countries. T^his ernpiri-cal evidence is significant not only because FAD is a widely held view among dertain circles, but because echoes of it can be heard in (many contemporary discussions nationally and internationally when people argue that an increase in fpod production will lead to the elimination of hunger. In fact FAD is the country cousin of the more prestigious view that economic growth will eliminate poverty, and hence anything that will controvert it is welcome indeed, i

I shall concentrate on Sen's entitlement approach to famines. For this purpose I shall take up the Bengal famine of 1943. "What explains the Bengal famine of 1943^' is the question. Sen quotes the view of the Famine Inquiry Commission, India, that its primary cause should be seen in "the serious shortage in the -total supply of rice available for consumption in Bengal as compared with the total supply normally



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