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Irish economist Prof Cormac O Grada is cautiously optimistic famines will eventually be wiped out, barring resurgences of regional conflict.
Prof O Grada, of University College Dublin, was a keynote speaker at the 19th Australasian Irish Studies Conference in Dunedin last week.
About one million people from a population of 8.5 million had died in the Irish Potato Famine (1846-50), he said.
This famine resulted from a huge "ecological shock", involving the destruction of the Irish potato harvest by disease over several seasons.
By contrast, several recent famines elsewhere in the world had been relatively small, involving only a few hundred deaths.
Globalisation and the improved production, storage, and transport of food, as well as rapid international sharing of news, had proved positive.
Many non-governmental organisations and agencies had been established to counter famines and the United States had made big food donations.
But he warned that endemic hunger, which did not threaten famine-like surges of mass deaths, was still a "very serious problem", affecting about one billion of the world's population, many of them infants.