IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Merits of Democracy in Famine Protection – Fact or Fallacy?


  • Olivier Rubin

    () (Assistant Professor, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen.)


Amartya Sen's assertion that democratic institutions together with a free press provide effective protection from famine is one of the most cited and broadly accepted contributions in modern famine theory. Through a mix of qualitative and quantitative evidence, this article critically examines whether indeed democracies do provide protection from famine. The qualitative research builds on analyses of democratic political dynamics in famine situations (in Bihar 1966, Malawi 2002 and Niger 2005), whereas the quantitative research looks for cross-country correlations between political systems and famine incidents. The article calls into question the strength of the link between democracy and famine protection. Famines have indeed occurred in electoral democracies where the political dynamics at times were counterproductive in providing protection from famine. The article concludes that to fully grasp the complexities of famine, one should replace monocausal political explanations (such as democracy protects against famine) with general tools for context-specific political analysis.La déclaration d’Amartya Sen selon lequel les institutions démocratiques et une presse libre fournissent une protection efficace contre le risque de famine est l’une des contributions les plus citées (et acceptées) dans la théorie moderne de la famine. En combinant une approche quantitative et qualitative, cet article reconsidère le point de vue de Sen. La composante qualitative du papier se base sur la dynamique de la politique démocratique dans un contexte de famine (le Bihar en 1966, le Malawi en 2002 et le Niger en 2005) tandis que la partie quantitative se penche sur des corrélations, effectuées en coupe transversale entre les systèmes politiques et les famines. Nos résultats mettent en doute la robustesse du lien entre la démocratie et la protection contre la famine. En effet, des famines se sont produites dans des démocraties lorsque la dynamique politique du moment y était contreproductive. L’article conclut en notant que le phénomène de la famine est complexe, et appelle à remplacer les explications mono-causales par des outils plus généraux et sensibles au contexte.

Suggested Citation

  • Olivier Rubin, 2009. "The Merits of Democracy in Famine Protection – Fact or Fallacy?," The European Journal of Development Research, Palgrave Macmillan;European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI), vol. 21(5), pages 699-717, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:eurjdr:v:21:y:2009:i:5:p:699-717

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Link to full text PDF
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    File URL:
    File Function: Link to full text HTML
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:pal:eurjdr:v:21:y:2009:i:5:p:699-717. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.