Drought-induced famine is largely a political rather than climatological disaster, as this account by Teshome Erkineh of response to drought conditions in Ethiopia demonstrates. It happens when societies, for whatever reason, fail to cope with climate variability. A million people died in 1983-84 because of drought. In 2003, under what was a more severe drought in meteorological terms, societal mechanisms put in place following the 1980s drought were sufficient to avoid severe famine, according to Erkineh:
Twenty years on, Ethiopia is much better prepared for drought. The country has developed an early warning system, coupled to response mechanisms, that has been shown to be effective: in 2003 more than 13 million Ethiopians were affected by drought, but a major famine was avoided.
Erkineh’s piece is part of a package papers on Climate Risk Management in Africa: Learning from Practice, published by the folks at IRI.