Wikipedia claims that

In 1988, Vietnam suffered a famine that afflicted millions.

But its only citation is this 1988 NYT article that mentions "famine fears".

A 2002 Economist article states that

Thanks to a disastrous attempt to force all the country's small family farms to merge into giant collectives, Vietnam flirted with famine in the 1980s.

So did Vietnam suffer from a famine any time during the 1980s? And if not, how close did it come to famine?

  • 3
    The difference is probably down to whether the respective articles are using a formal or informal definition of "famine". According to the UN's definition, a famine "can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition and hunger are met. They are: at least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope; acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent; and the death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons." - un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39113#.VJCnI8md3MA
    – Steve Bird
    Dec 16, 2014 at 21:47

1 Answer 1


Certainly there were widespread food shortages in 1988 following a drop in agricultural production, high inflation and significant unemployment. The situation in the northern provinces has often been described as famine, though there are few statistics about how many people died. The only numbers I could find was from the following Asian Bulletin [Vol 13, p81, 1988] article:

"On July 9, [Vietnamese newspaper] Tuoi Tre, was reported as having said 21 Vietnamese had starved to death because of food shortages in the northern part of the country. The report said hunger plagued 10 million people in northern provinces. Four million people, especially in Thanh Hoa province, faced severe hunger, and 21 people had starved to death. Tuoi Tre said the first public disclosure of famine deaths was made in Ho Chi Minh City by delegates who attended a June 23-28 session of the National Assembly."

The food shortages resulted in major economic changes in Vietnam, led by Communist reformists. By 1989, Vietnam was apparently the third-largest rice exporting country in the world [James Elliott, The Future of Socialism, p133].

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