Migration as Disaster Relief: Lessons from the Great Irish Famine
Mass emigration was one key feature of the Great Irish Famine which distinguishes it from today’s famines. By bringing famine victims to overseas food supplies, it undoubtedly saved many lives. Poverty traps prevented those most in need from availing of this form of relief, however. Cross-county data show that the ratio of emigration to deaths was higher in richer than in poorer counties. Another key feature of the Famine emigration was that it was irreversible. The Famine thus had a permanent impact on Ireland’s population and economy, whereas typically famines only reduce population in a transitory fashion. Famine emigration spurred post-Famine emigration by eliminating poverty traps; the result was a sustained decline in the Irish population, and a convergence of living standards both within Ireland and between Ireland and the rest of the world.
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