Institutional Failure: Churchill’s Policies Responsible for 1943 Bengal Famine – Study

For years there has been debate surrounding the late Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s culpability in the 1943 Bengal famine in the then-British India. A new study provides scientific backing that the 1943 famine, which is estimated to have killed three million people, was the only one in modern Indian history not linked to drought or crop failure as originally thought, but the result of “complete policy failure” during the British colonial era.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, was conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar, the India Meteorology Department and the University of California in Los Angeles. It looked at the history of droughts and famines in the Indian subcontinent using weather data and a soil moisture database. Researchers led by Professor Vimal Mishra conducted a study which simulated soil conditions/ moisture levels from 1870 to 2016 to reconstruct agricultural drought conditions. Bengal endured six major famines between 1873 and 1943, all famines during that period were attributed to droughts, except the one in 1943. The study’s abstract states, “We find that a majority of famines were caused by large-scale and severe soil moisture droughts that hampered the food production. However, one famine was completely due to the failure of policy during the British era.”

Rainfall was above average in late 1943, and between June and September during the peak of the famine, indicating that drought was not to blame. The famine occurred irrespective of above-average rainfall. Although, the region suffered from drought for much of the 1940s, the most extreme conditions were in 1941 a couple of years prior to the infamous famine of 1943.

Earlier evidence and studies further reinforce the argument that the Bengal famine was due to Churchill’s decision-making. In 2010, Madhusree Mukerjee published ‘Churchill’s Secret War’, which provided evidence and documentation from the British war transport office and the diary of Lord Cherwell, the former PM’s doctor, to prove Churchill’s direct involvement. The famine was caused and exacerbated by a policy decision made by the Churchill government during the war to stockpile grain for the British. As part of the Western war effort, Churchill ordered the diversion of grains and essential supplies from starving Indians to military stockpiles to support already well-supplied British troops. Churchill’s cabinet in London was warned repeatedly that the diversion and exhaustive consumption of Indian resources for the British war effort could cause a famine, despite these warnings food exports continued. Even when Britain officially declared a famine, Churchill exported 70,000 tonnes of rice to the UK. Rice continued to be transported even when London denied India’s viceroy’s urgent requests for 1 million tonnes of emergency wheat supplies.

The British Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery, told Churchill the impact the famine was having – rotting corpses lined the streets of Kolkata. Churchill’s apathetic response was asking how, if the food shortages were so severe, Mahatma Gandhi was still alive and he blamed the famine on the Indians, saying it was their fault for “breeding like rabbits.”

Another factor which intensified the famine was the Japanese capture of Burma (now Myanmar), which was a major source of rice imports to India. The British administration placed restrictions on imports and halted the import of rice. In the past, famines were not as deadly due to incoming rice from Burma and relief aid from the British government. Furthermore, Britain’s military policies caused the confiscation of supplies of rice and boats from coastal Bengal. The policy’s intent was to deny resources to the Japanese military in the event of a potential invasion.

The British response to the 1943 famine was one of inaction and negligence; however, it could have been easily preventable. During a past famine in Bihar, East India in 1873-74, the local government led by Sir Richard Temple responded quickly by importing food supplies and providing welfare to assist the poor. Few people starved, but Temple’s response garnered criticism from British authorities for his heavy expenditure. Subsequent famines in south and western India received less aid, and consequently mortality rates soared.

India gained independence from the British colonial administration in 1947. Despite immense population growth since the colonial era, the study indicated famine deaths in modern India have been significantly reduced. The impact of drought has been minimized due to the expansion of irrigation, higher seed yields, generation of rural employment, more effective food distribution and the welfare system, as well as improved transportation links, which allows the movement of emergency food stocks to deprived areas.

Jenna Homewood


Yemen, The Largest Humanitarian Crisis In The World

In the past, Yemen was a prosperous developing country suffused with economical and societal riches. Yemen’s roots in the development and distribution of internationally admired goods like coffee and gold date back centuries, which served as a reliable foundation for growth across much of its existence. However, over time it became apparent that Yemen’s unique capabilities would not prove to be an efficient protective mechanism against the travesties of humanity’s inner workings. Slowly, due to international involvement and rivaling political parties intervening with the nation’s societal welfare, the peace that Yemenis embraced for many years was beginning to dissolve into a thing of the past.
2015: The Ignition to Civil Turmoil
In 2004, the United States pushed the president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to concentrate on combating a terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In response, Yemen’s military force backed by Saudi Arabia launched multiple strikes against a group known as Houthis, who Saleh alleged were creating a dynamic of separatism ,enforcing their religious beliefs on the country’s people and operating in collusion with AQAP. This created a severe rift between the most prominent religious parties in the nation, which established a hostile environment for the state of Yemen and all of its citizens. The trend towards a civil war, indicated by this long standing atmosphere of tension and conflict finally came to a precipice 11 years later. In February of 2015, the Houthi rebellion finally reached the place of power that it desired by forcing Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi (then leader of Yemen, and technically still president of the nation today) and his cabinet to flee to Saudi Arabia, leaving the Houthis essentially in control of the state and all of its facilities. Just a month later, the Saudi Arabian military set the goals of its military intervention to reverse the nation back into the authority of the Hadi government and retain governance over Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Ever since, these two factions have fought relentlessly for control over the nation, which once gave off a lustrous tint of optimism, but after seemingly endless warfare it has been reduced to a pile of debris and a living case study of how a society can collapse under the pressures of greed, religious opposition, and the corruption of foreign affairs.

The Current State of the Humanitarian Crisis
The civil war in Yemen has decreased the living conditions of its people to a terrifying level. With no resolution in sight, Yemeni people are faced with a situation where optimism for a brighter future seems more like an act of dreaming than a mental reflection of reality. In recent weeks, famine conditions caused by blockades on the borders of the nation and massive economic downfall rivaling famous events on global markets like the Great Depression have reached virality in an increased amount of regions around Yemen. It is estimated that nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment. Along with mass starvation, the nationwide warfare has resulted in the displacement of approximately 4 million people, and the killing of over 100 000 people since 2015. These numbers give shocking insight into the sheer magnitude of this humanitarian crisis, and with important political figures like the U.S. President Joe Biden recently announcing reductions in international affairs including the civil war in Yemen, it is difficult to perceive a future where Yemeni citizens will be able to go back to the things they love. An individual can only enjoy the level of happiness that their society’s living conditions permits them to, and unfortunately for the Yemeni people, the likelihood of that ever getting back to a point of admiration remains shrouded in mystery.

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