The Orissa famine of 1866 known as the Na’anka Durbhikhya famine affected the east coast of India from Madras upwards, an area covering 180,000 miles and containing a population of 47,500,000;the impact of the famine, however, was greatest in Orissa, now Odisha which at that time was quite isolated from the rest of India. In Odisha, one third of the population died due to famine.

The famine was followed by a severe drought and destruction of the Rice Crop. The government imported rice but it reached only when millions of people starved to death. The population of the region depended on the rice crop of the winter season for their sustenance; however, the monsoon of 1865 was scanty and stopped prematurely. In addition, the Bengal Board of Revenue made incorrect estimates of the number of people who would need help and was misled by fictitious price lists. Consequently, as the food reserves began to dwindle, the gravity of the situation was not grasped until the end of May 1866, and by then the monsoons had set in.

A similar kind of famine affected Bundelkhand and Rajputana(1869) also. The government established the Famine Commission under Henery Kempbell, considered an important milestone in the economic history of Orissa. Emphasis was laid down for infrastructure development so that the relief reaches in time. The development of roads, railways, ports and navigable irrigation canals became a priority.

The famine also served to awaken educated Indians about the effect that British rule was having on India. The fact that during the Orissa famine India exported more than 200 million pounds of rice to Great Britain even while more than one million succumbed to famine outraged Indian nationalists. Dadabhai Naoroji used this as evidence to develop the Drain Theory, the idea that Britain was enriching itself by “sucking the lifeblood out of India”.