Posts Tagged Global economy

Global Food Crisis

Is anyone aware of the food crisis that is apparently engulfing the world? Isn’t it disturbing to watch state security apparatuses flank Olympic torch runners on either side, knowing that the powerful nations don’t show half as much concern over rising food prices that are leading to riots in several countries?

In Haiti for instance, 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers are standing by and watching as desperate civilians continue their looting and rioting. A few U.S. Congressmen have urged that Haiti be relieved of its international debts so it could redirect its money to dealing with the problem. The World Food Program put in a request for $96 million for the small nation but has only received about 13 percent of it. According to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, “Ninety six million dollars is worth about seven hours of what we spend right now in Iraq.” Strangely, the Iraqis are starving too…

With regards the Middle East, NPR reports:

In Tunisia and Morocco, where dissent is not tolerated, police have been deployed recently to quell food protests. In oil-rich Saudi Arabia, boycott campaigns have sprung up to protest the soaring cost of staple foods.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick describes the situation as follows:

In Bangladesh a two-kilogram bag of rice … now consumes about half of the daily income of a poor family. The price of a loaf of bread … has more than doubled. Poor people in Yemen are now spending more than a quarter of their incomes just on bread.

Imagine having to spending over a quarter of your income on bread alone…

In Egypt, people are standing in breadlines for hours hoping to buy cheap subsidized bread. In some places, bread is so scarce that it’s being sold behind a barricaded wall. Along with bread prices, cooking oil and rice costs have also soared. With the crisis has come corruption, and Egypt’s local media is rife with reports of civil servants “depending on bribes to make ends meet, and young men extorting ‘protection money’ from small shops; one report even claims the crisis is causing Egyptians to lose their legendary sense of humor.” Oh, you know the world is troubled when Umm al-Dunya is no longer able to crack a joke.

So what’s causing an inflation in food costs? A combination of factors are being blamed. A huge one seems to be the increasing amount of farmers in the West who are redirecting a significant portion of the wheat crop from food to biofuel production. There is also a rice shortage due to droughts, floods and an increased demand in countries like China and India. A rise in oil and energy prices is also blamed. Another factor apparently lies with the U.S. policy of paying some farmers not to grow wheat so as to drive up the cost of the grain. I’m still not sure I understand why it would do that. It seems evil. And why would the U.S government possess such a trait?

Experts predict that the crisis will last for some time and warn that unless the fundamental pressures driving up food prices are addressed, social unrest and anxiety could get worse and spread to other classes. In Egypt for example, “There were a reported 222 strikes or job actions in 2006; that figure soared to 580 last year, and not just in the industrial sector. Doctors, university professors and private-sector workers also are protesting.”

Joel Beinin, a professor at the American University in Cairo, put it this way:

“This is the core of the educated, professional middle-class, which has been the political class throughout the 20th century in Egypt and until now as well. When these people consider job actions or collective protests of a significant magnitude, this is potentially big trouble for the government.”

Ahem. Could this be one of those bothersome, Western-rooted social ills that drive a frustrated and angry Muslim world towards “alternative” means of representation? If I had to spend over a quarter of my income on bread while being beaten over the head by the state police as i’m protesting my family’s slow starvation, I’d be pretty angry at the failure of Nationalism, Arabism, globalism and every other Ism’s failure to provide me with a better life. I could see why vulnerable populations would probably be more inclined to listen to fundamentalists whose rhetoric speaks to their pain and offers them a different vision.

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