The difference between drought and famine has the potential to be very confusing. Both result in an insufficient supply of food and water along with the wide and rapid spread of disease. Potentially both disasters could lead to the economic and social collapse of the community. However, the truth about both disasters is quite simple.

In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, drought is defined as a period of dryness, especially when prolonged. Likewise, famine is defined as an extreme scarcity of food. While famine can sometimes be the outcome of a drought, it is considered to be more of a manmade disaster, therefore more preventable, and results from the lack of availability of food and water. A drought is solely the result of finicky Mother Nature and almost entirely unpreventable. In both cases, if aid is not immediately offered to the affected people, starvation, rampant disease, economic and social collapse and death will take its toll.

Here are eight quick facts that define these disasters in order to keep them straight.



  • The most common form of drought is a lack of water vapor in the atmosphere, which causes precipitation. A lack of moisture in the air causes wildfires that can damage communities and food supplies, ruin forests, or harm people and animals.
  • Of all the water on earth, only .003 percent is available fresh water that is not polluted, trapped in soil, or too far underground. During a drought, shared sources of water such as rivers, reservoirs, and groundwater for wells are in jeopardy of running dry.
  • Since the 1970s, the percentage of Earth’s surface affected by drought has doubled. Global warming is largely blamed.
  • Meteorologists predict drought based on precipitation patterns, stream flow, and moisture of soil over long periods of time.



  • Famines rarely happen because of a single event and often are the result of many years of struggling to grow food in a harsh environment.
  • Famine doesn’t usually cause the deaths of whole communities. Instead, it’s often old people and the youth who suffer from disease and malnutrition as they are the most vulnerable.
  • Different factors can trigger famine – the choice of crops planted, ineffective farming techniques, political systems and civil wars.
  • Famine happens when people don’t have the ability to cope during extreme natural conditions like drought.

-Kira Maixner
Source: Do Something, Merriam Webster Online
Photo: Asia News