How to Survive a Famine and Prepare for a Food Shortage

Throughout history, famine has devastated civilizations and caused millions of deaths worldwide. If you find yourself in this situation, keeping you and your loved ones alive is essential!

But how do you survive a famine?

Stockpiling non-perishable food, water, cooking tools, and medical supplies is crucial to surviving a famine. The ability to grow, hunt, and fish for food is best for longer stretches. Be discreet about your cache and be prepared to defend it. When all else fails, go somewhere food is available.

There are many preparations and tactics you can do today to be prepared for this type of catastrophe. In the article below, we will look at what a famine is, how disastrous it can be, and how to be ready if it ever happens to you.

What is a Famine

A famine is an extreme type of hunger emergency. When a famine occurs, a food shortage is causing starvation and death to anyone in the area daily. Before learning how to survive a famine, we first must understand what a famine is and how it can happen.

Famine can be a side effect of natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. However, famines are different as they occur slowly and are typically caused by drivers that are man-made and preventable. While famines are not immensely common, when they do occur, it is usually the horrible result of destructive, long-term policies put in place by governing bodies.

The government typically declares famines using the Integrated Phase Classification, or IPC, system. This system has five phases that determine the severity of the crisis. Phase one is the least severe, and phase five is the most. Famine is usually declared when the following conditions are met:

  • Food shortages are occurring in 1 of 5 households
  • Over 30% of the population is experiencing malnutrition
  • Death is happening in 2 of 10,000 people daily
  • Death is happening in 4 of 10,000 children under five daily

What Causes a Famine

We can use history as our guide to determine what can send civilization down this dark road. Many events, or a combination of circumstances, lead to a famine. In the list below, we can see some of the most common reasons for famine.

  • Natural disasters
  • Bad government policies
  • War
  • Disease and sickness
  • Plant diseases
  • Drought
  • Climate change
  • Bad agricultural process
  • Insects
  • Overpopulation

Worst Famines in History

You may think that famine is not something you need to take very seriously in the modernized world. Unfortunately, famine has always been a danger to civilization, and you don’t need to look back far to find one. Food is always readily available, and you have never encountered a situation where it was hard to get. Here are some of the worst famines in recorded history.

  • The Great Chinese Famine: 1959 to 1961 – 15 million estimated deaths
  • Chalisa and South India Famine: 1782 to 1784 – 11 million estimated deaths
  • Bengali Famine: 1770 – 10 million estimated deaths
  • Soviet Famine: 1932 to 1933 – 7 million estimated deaths
  • Russian Famine: 1921 – 5 million estimated deaths
  • Bengal Famine: 1943 – 3 million estimated deaths
  • Irish Potato Famine: 1845 to 1853 – 1 million estimated deaths
  • North Korea Famine: 1994 to 1998 – 3 million estimated deaths

Stocking Food and Water

The best thing you can do to survive a famine is prepare! It is never too early to start collecting and storing food for emergencies. Since this process can get expensive quickly, start slowly building your supplies over time.

Non-Perishable Foods

When stockpiling food, you need to be sure that it will still be safe to eat when it comes time to use it. The foods you choose should be capable of being stored for long periods without going bad. The list below includes some of the best items you can collect to ensure you have what you need when the food runs out.

  • Dry cereal and granola
  • MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat)
  • Mountain House meals
  • Canned meats, vegetables, and fruits
  • Fruit and protein bars
  • Sweet snacks and comfort foods
  • Dried fruits
  • Canned juices
  • Peanut butter
  • Energy bars
  • Protein bars
  • Baby formula (if necessary)
  • Pasteurized milk

Water Purification

You need water to survive and will need to add it to your list of supplies. But if you run out, the ability to collect water from a safe source will be vital. Once you have identified a safe water supply and gathered it, you must purify to prevent sickness or death. Here are the best ways you can purify water.

Collecting Rainwater

As mentioned above, collecting rainwater is an excellent option for survival. But the collection process is not as easy as you might think. Placing bottles, buckets, and bowls outside when it rains is not an efficient method for collection.

The best way to collect rainwater is by using something with a flat surface and then funneling that water into your storage containers. While your home gutter system is already built to do this, you will need to filter that water as the debris from the roof can cause mold after storage.

Some examples of other items that can be used for collecting rainwater include:

  • Tarps
  • Umbrellas (Upside down)
  • Plastic bags
  • Plastic sheets
  • Rubber bed sheets

Many items can be used, and you can get creative and build a home system for obtaining rainwater. If you get debris or dirt in your water during the collection process, be sure to boil or purify it properly to ensure it is safe for consumption.

Storing Your Food and Water

Storing food can be tedious and must be handled with lots of attention and routine. Ideally, you will want to keep everything as dry as possible. You can do this by storing it in airtight containers and making sure they are off the ground. This will prevent moisture from ruining it.

Another good practice for storing food is to inventory when items in your possession expire. A good rule of thumb is to rotate food out every six months. If you notice any bloating or corrosion to a can, be sure to swap it out and not eat it. Food may look safe to eat, but you should always be cautious before eating it.

It is also a good idea to have your food stored in waterproof bags or containers. If your food supply were to come in contact with contaminated fluid from a flood or other natural disaster, it could cause harm to your body by eating it.

Don’t eat it if it doesn’t smell or look the way it should! Another good idea is to keep lots of plastic bags and containers. This will help make your food last that little bit longer.

Here’s a great article I wrote that does a great job of teaching you how to store water long-term.

Growing Your Food

Storing food for survival is an excellent option in the short term. But when you want to be prepared for a long-term crisis, you will need to create a garden and grow the food yourself. Depending on the type of crisis or cause of the famine, you may need to house your garden indoors. While this is more difficult, your garden can still thrive inside under the right conditions.

The most important aspect of a survival garden is the types of food you need to grow. Having a lovely fruit tree or blueberries may seem like a good idea, but these items are difficult to store and quickly rotten. Below is a list of the best foods for your survival garden:

  • Beans
  • Lentil
  • Tomato
  • Potato
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Garlic
  • Peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Herbs

Hunting and Fishing Preparations

While hunting and fishing may not be the best options for surviving a famine, knowing how to do it and what you need could be something you cross paths with.


Fishing may sound like a great option when food becomes scarce. While the rest of the world scrambles for bread crumbs, you can sit by the lake and rip lips out of the water. The reality is fishing may not be a practical option for surviving a famine.

As we have discussed, famine can strike from a variety of causes. Based on what this cause is can determine if fishing is possible. If drought or climate change were the cause, fishing would not be feasible as the water supplies would have run dry. There is also a potential that the water is contaminated or poisoned depending on the situation. Fishing also takes a lot of time that you may not have at your disposal.

While catching fish for food during a famine should not be your primary plan, it is still a good idea to be prepared in case the opportunity comes up. To qualify for fishing during a famine, it is suggested to collect these items.

  • Fishing line
  • Nets
  • Crab Traps (If there are crabs nearby)
  • Bait
  • Lures
  • Fishing pole
  • Reel
  • Hooks
  • Weights
  • Bobbers
  • Swivels
  • And more

Hunting with Firearms

Firearms are obviously great tools to have when dealing with a catastrophic event. Not only can they protect you and your inventory, but they can also help it grow! Firearms are much more accurate than a bow and have a much longer range. You know your bullet will strike its target when you squeeze the trigger if you use good form.

Firearms will require you to keep cleaning tools handy. You do not want to be lined up at your family’s dinner and have a malfunction or allow rust to ruin your weapon. Guns also require expensive bullets. You will likely have a limited supply of ammunition, so you will need to use it sparingly and only when you need to! Another advantage of firearms is that they can take down both big game and small.

Archery Hunting

Like hunting with firearms, archery hunting gives you the ability to take down both big and small game. An advantage that archery has over guns is that typically you can retrieve your arrows after shooting them. However, you will need to get a lot closer to get a shot when it comes to archery, and it requires a little more skill to bring home the meat.

Some common items you will need for a standard compound bow are:

  • Arrows
  • Release
  • Broadheads
  • Strings
  • Sights
  • Arrow Rests
  • Rangefinder

The worst thing that could happen is to get close enough for a bow shot and miss! Archery does take a lot of practice to be successful. So, if this is an option you are going for, you will need to have a target and some space to hone your skills.

Trapping or Snaring

Trapping and snaring are probably the best “hunting” techniques you can use to trap and obtain. When setting traps, you will not burn a lot of energy as compared to hunting and fishing. As mentioned above, small game will most likely be your most straightforward option, and trapping is the most effective method.

Here are some of the traps that can help you catch those small critters quickly and effectively:

  • Drawing snare
  • Cage Traps
  • Treadle snare
  • Peg snare
  • Fixed snare
  • Bait stitch snairs
  • Motion trigger snare

Protecting Yourself and Your Supplies

Protecting your supplies is one of the most crucial factors to surviving a famine. When your neighborhood is starving and desperate, even your best friends have the potential of coming after what you have.

Having a firearm at your disposal will be great for fending off any thieves or robbers. It is also important to never reveal the supplies you have at your disposal. Keep everything locked up in a secure location and hidden as you don’t know who would want to steal it!

Other Things you Should Consider

We covered the most important things you need to worry about when food is scarce and how to prepare for it. But the more you think about it, the more your list of items required will continue to grow. In the section below, we will look at some of the other things you should consider for surviving a famine.

First Aid

In any crisis, you never know what is going to happen. Being prepared to treat illness, wounds, or other medical issues is always something to consider. While there are many items you may want to include, here is a list of the absolute necessities for your first aid kit.

  • Splints
  • Bandages
  • Tape
  • Gauze pads
  • Tourniquet
  • Masks
  • Gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Soap
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Shears

In addition to the items above, having a good medicine cabinet can also be incredibly useful during a famine.

Cooking Tools

Okay, so you have enough food and water to last you for years. While you don’t NEED to cook this food to survive, it would certainly help make it more pleasant to eat—some good items to keep handy to prepare your meals properly.

  • Pots and pans
  • Firestarters (lighters, matches, etc.)
  • Salt and other seasonings
  • Utensils
  • Cups
  • Plates and bowls
  • Location for burning garbage
  • Knives
  • Cooking oils
  • Can opener


You have tried everything, your garden has dried up, you ran out of food, and all hope is lost. Sometimes you have to know when to cut your losses and abandon ship. Many recommend having a bug-out location or a plan B spot to wait out the storm. However, going to any site with food that can sustain you and your family will be good enough.

Have a solid plan on where you could go if things got so dire you were forced to leave. Think of places where you have family or are very familiar with. Anywhere that will allow you to escape your current situation.

Famine can be devastating to everyone around you. So, be sure to stockpile your supplies, grow your garden, and be ready to hunt and fish so when the famine ends, you are still right where you need to be – alive! While they aren’t familiar, preparing ahead of time for a food shortage is an excellent approach.