Orissa famine of 1866

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A 1907 map of Orissa, shown as the southwestern region of Greater Bengal. Coastal Balasore district was one of the worst-hit areas in the Orissa famine of 1866.

The Orissa famine of 1866 affected the east coast of India from Madras upwards, an area covering 180,000 miles[citation needed] and containing a population of 47,500,000; the impact of the famine, however, was greatest in Orissa, which at that time was quite isolated from the rest of India.[1]


Like all Indian famines of the 19th-century, the Orissa famine was preceded by a drought: the population of the region depended on the rice crop of the winter season for their sustenance; however, the monsoon of 1865 was scanty and stopped prematurely.[1] In addition, the Bengal Board of Revenue made incorrect estimates of the number of people who would need help and was misled by fictitious price lists. Consequently, as the food reserves began to dwindle, the gravity of the situation was not grasped until the end of May 1866, and by then the monsoons had set in.[1]

Course and relief[edit]

Efforts to ship the food to the isolated province were hampered because of bad weather, and when some shipments did reach the coast of Orissa, they could not be moved inland. The British Indian government imported some 10,000 tons of rice, which reached the affected population only in September.[1] Although many people died of starvation, more were killed by cholera before the monsoons and by malaria afterwards. In Orissa alone, at least 1 million people, a third of the population, died in 1866, and overall in the region approximately 4 to 5 million died in the two-year period.[1]

The heavy rains of 1866 also caused floods which destroyed the rice-crop in low-lying regions. Consequently, in the following year, another shortfall was expected, and the Government of British India imported approximately 40,000 tons of rice at four times the usual price.[1] However, this time they overestimated the need, and only half the rice was used by the time the summer monsoon of 1867, followed by a plentiful harvest, ended the famine in 1868. In the two years of the famine, the Government of British India spend approximately Rs.9,500,000 on famine relief for 35 million units (i.e. one person per day); a large proportion of the cost, however, was the high price of the imported grain.[1]

See also[edit]



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