An estimated seven and a half million people died of starvation and related diseases in China, Vietnam, and India during the last half of the Second World War. This death toll reflected the severity with which the poor were affected by the combination of natural disaster, military imperative, political conflict, economic dislocation, and corruption that caused these famines. But famine mortality is also a function of the effectiveness of the relief system. The famines in China and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam, occurred in times of administrative disruption. During the Bengal famine of 1943, however, the central and provincial administrations were intact, if under strain, as the Japanese army tested the eastern defenses of India. Moreover, the Bengal government had recently revised the instructions for bringing relief to those affected by famine. The possibility of an ordered administrative response to the crisis means that the analysis of this operation provides an opportunity to make a contribution to the general understanding of famine relief.

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