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Diagnosis of famine: a discursive contribution

Authors

  • Olivier Rubin

    Corresponding author
    1. Associate Professor, Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University, Denmark
    • Correspondence: Olivier Rubin, Associate Professor, Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University, Universitetsvej 1, Postboks 260, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark. Telephone: +45 46743664; e-mail: rubin@ruc.dk

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Abstract

This paper recommends the incorporation of an additional discursive dimension in famine diagnosis that draws on the number of reports referring to famine in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)'s ReliefWeb database. Present-day diagnostic tools already apply the principle of triangulation with multiple indicators; the addition of a discursive diagnostic dimension would enable even more refined analysis, allowing more forcefully for the incorporation of the aspect of change. The newly devised discursive famine indices are used both to identify famines—in Ethiopia (2000), Malawi (2002), and Somalia (2011)—and to analyse key socioeconomic determinants of famine. The study finds that income (or poverty) together with state fragility appear to be the major determinants of cross-country variations in famine reporting, while political regimes do not appear to have any independent effect. The indices appear largely robust with regard to concerns about cross-country, semantic, and temporal biases.

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