Lebanon’s dark days of hunger: The Great Famine of 1915-18
The harrowing images from Mount Lebanon as death stalked the streets in 1915. Courtesy Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB
“My people and your people, my Syrian
Brother, are dead … What can be
Done for those who are dying? Our
Lamentations will not satisfy their
Hunger, and our tears will not quench
Their thirst; what can we do to save
Them between the iron paws of
– From Dead Are My People by Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
Almost 100 years ago this month, as the First World War raged across Europe and beyond, a dark chapter unfolded in what was then known as Greater Syria.
The first culprit: the relentless locust. Following a bad harvest caused by a drought, in April 1915 dark clouds heralded the arrival of swarms of locusts, descending to feed on plants, whether green or dry.
For over three months, the tiny but insatiable creatures devoured whatever had been left behind by the Ottoman authorities, who had prioritised food and grain reserves to feed their soldiers as part of the imperial war effort.
This marked the beginning of a period that is now often just a footnote in the history books: the Great Famine of 1915-18, which left an estimated 500,000 people dead. With a lack of accurate data, estimates range from 100,000 to 200,000 deaths in Mount Lebanon alone.