A FUNGUS AND A FAMINE
The Irish Potato Famine was one of the first humanitarian disasters to prompt philanthropic efforts worldwide. Caused by a fungus that led to the collapse and decay of the potato plant, the human consequences of this 1845 blight were disastrous. Though the famine took a tremendous toll, causing 400,000 deaths, private philanthropy saved the lives of many. Monetary donations came from countries as far-flung as India, Venezuela, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Russia, Italy, as well as from Irish communities in America. Ireland's vulnerability was compounded by its poverty and its dependence on a single staple crop. As famines in India and Africa showed later in the 19th and 20th centuries, failure of a staple crop has its greatest burden on the poor who cannot afford to replace their dependency with expensive alternatives, even when they are locally available.