Freedom from Famine: the role of political freedom in famine preventionFamine, today, is an insult. That people still die on account of famine and famine-related diseases is something that really is quite hard to believe, at first. Yet, time and time again we have witnessed recurrent famines in a number of regions of the world, where entire populations have been violated of thc most basic of all human rights, the right to life. At least on a theoretical plane, famines can be prevented if its exact cause in a given society can be defined and the factors leading to such a situation identified. It is my primary contention in this thesis that the role of the government in putting into effect both long-term preventive and immediate relief measures is crucial if the threat of famine is to be eradicated or controlled. The ArgumentThe point of departure ot this thesis is Amartya Sen's observation that democratic institutions and a free press enable a country to withstand the threat of famines. Basing his analysis on an initial comparison between India and China, Sen argued, in his now famous Coromandel Lecture ( 1982), that independent India has successfully prevented famines due to its democratic political structure. In spite of not being able to guarantee freedom from chronic hunger, famines have been successfully averted as the bureaucracy and civil institutions are able to provide early warnings of impending food crises, and as the political leadership is pressured into taking timely action to prevent such crises from developing into major disasters. In contrast to India, during the period 1958-61, China went through a severe famine where millions perished. Un like India, the dictatorial pol itical system in China was not pressured into prompt and adequate action. There were no opposition parties or independent and vigorously active newspapers to campaign on behalf of the famine affected masses. The PurposeThe main purpose of this thesis is to first undertake a thorough theoretical discussion on the thcorics linking govcrnmcnt policy and famine. Tn addition to Sen's theory of "early warning" und unticipution of famines, various alternative approaches will be discussed in order to assess the "early warning" capacity of opposition partics and an independent process. Second, the thesis also aims to examine whether Sen's contention actually holds ground today. This, with especial reference to India. Nevertheless, I wil l also attempt to generalise the lessons from India to apply to certain other famine-prone countries. The two basic categories of questions that this study proposes to investigate are as follows: 1) Does political freedom facilitate greater success in famine-prevention in developingcountries? To what extent does political freedom, viz., opposition political parties, a free news media, and a strong and active public opinion, make the government act responsibly in times of crisis so immediate and threatening as the onset of famines or famine-like conditions? How crucial is the "early warning" of an impending crisis as provided by political parties and a press? And once provided, do governments heed to such warnings? 2) Acknowledging that India has successfully combated famines since independence in1947, can one characterise this as an achievement based on long-term planning or a "crisis induced" response? This, especially considering the number of people suffering from poverty and hunger during normal times. Does political freedom in India work well only during a large-scale disaster? How important has been the "early warning" role of political parties and the press in India? The study has two interrelated goals. First, to contribute to the understanding of famine prevention in the present development context of lndia, and second, to enlarge the comprehension of the ways in which famine prevention is associated with the existence of political frccdom in developing countrics. In this quest, some recent successes and failures in combating famines in a number of famine-prone countries will be discussed. It is my intention to maintain a deliberate optimistic tenor throughout this thesis: Famine is preventable. Famine, in contrast to other disasters, is preventable as there always is a warning period during which planning can take place. Even if such plans fail, timely and adequate relief can avert a major loss of lives. However, it is rather apparent that famine~prevention efforts need to go well beyond ensuring rapid and adequate provision of food and relief to affected areas. The greater goal ought to be a long-term one, that of reducing famine 'vulnerability'. This is the line of thought that prevails throughout this thesis. Famines should never be allowed to happen. Famines should be a thing of the past.