The Great Hunger, Part 1 & 2

True famine is rarer than you might think. Most people in famine-prone lands have learned to adapt to nature's fickle ways. Food shortages and starvation are more frequently the product of human action: who lives and dies are the results of a brutal calculus of power. Philip Coulter visits Ireland and Ukraine to tell the story of two "famines" that continue to shape these nations today.

Listen to Part 1

Listen to Part 2

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We are used to the face of famine: the emaciated bodies, the dry earth, the helpless children, the despairing adults. Natural famine is a universal horror, the ultimate breakdown of a society - the inability to feed itself, because of the vagaries of nature. But there's another kind of famine - the deliberate mass starvation of a people. Are they different, or really just the same thing? And what happens after the great hunger is over? The bodies are buried, a people try to pick up the pieces and move on, rebuild from the bodies still living, rebuild a society. In Ireland in the mid- 19th century there was one kind of famine - the potato crop failed for five years in a row and around a million people starved; in Ukraine in 1932 and 1933 there was a different kind of famine - the holodomor, "death by starvation": an expropriation of the harvest, during which perhaps 8 million died.

Philip Coulter went to Ireland and Ukraine to ask some questions about what happens to a society when the great hunger is over. What has changed, how do people look at each other, how do they look at themselves? And how does such an event ripple down through history, its deep currents shaping the lives of later generations.

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