Food crisis a tsunami for the poor
Spiraling food prices have led to the world's first major food crisis since World War II, conjuring up the horrid image of plunging as many as 100 million people deeper into poverty.
The horror of famine is looming all over the world. International organizations are on full alert to tackle with the problem.
The price of rice has risen from March 3rd at $460 a metric ton to over $1000 a metric ton just a few days ago, i.e. a doubling of prices for buying food. The price of wheat is more than 80 percent higher than a year ago and corn prices are up by a quarter. Prices for vegetable oils are also on the rise with extreme rapidity.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund managing director told an April 12 press conference in Washington that
"If food prices go on as they are today, then the consequences on the population in a large set of countries, including Africa, but not only Africa, will be terrible. Hundreds of thousands of people will be starving. Children will suffer from malnutrition, with consequences all of their lives."
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Jean Ziegler told the French daily Liberation,
"We are heading for a very long period of rioting, conflicts (and) waves of uncontrollable regional instability marked by the despair of the most vulnerable populations."
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday that an immediate concerted action is required to resolve the global food crisis.
"The steeply rising price of food has developed into a real global crisis," Ban told journalists at a news conference held at the UN's Vienna headquarters.
"The United Nations is very much concerned, as all other members of the international community are. We must take immediate action in a concerted way throughout the international community."
Paralyzed by the food crisis, millions of people in dozens of countries have staged violent protests over the crisis and the increasing prices. The tragedy is gradually unfolding as many people across the world are not able to buy the food they need.
Riots and social unrest have erupted in Haiti, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia, and Indonesia. Egypt has banned rice exports and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs. Cambodia, Vietnam, India, and Pakistan have cut rice exports to supply their own markets at home.
UN has already warned of a looming food and humanitarian crisis in North Korea. The crisis is already visible in Central America, which has 7.5 million undernourished people. The Philippines is the hardest hit of the Asian nations in the crisis. Manila has temporarily stopped conversion of arable land for property development in the hope of supplying the food needs of the 88 million people.
The World Food Program has threatened to reduce rations to the 73 million people it feeds.
FAO Director General Jacques Diouf believes that food prices can be bridled through adopting wise policies.
In a news conference, he said, "This is not Greek tragedy where fate is decided by the gods and humans can do nothing about it. No, we have the ability to influence our futures."
"It's a good thing that international institutions are helping the poor gain access to food, but on our side we need to fight the most important battle today which is to ensure the 2008 farming season is a success," he added.
He believes that the crisis is caused by inappropriate policies over the past 20 years. Between 1990 and 2000, food aid was lowered for agriculture by half.
Some of the main reasons for the crisis can be categorized as follows:
1. Generous farm subsidies in wealthy countries which have discouraged agriculture in the developing world.
2. Lack of investment in water management in different countries of the third world.
3. Lack of investment in agricultural sector.
4. The promotion of biofuels as an effective weapon in the battle against climate change.
5. The greed of some investors to raise the prices as a way of accumulating wealth.
6. The failure of the green revolution.
7. Bad weather in some parts of the world including Bangladesh and Australia.
8. The conversion of arable land for development of industrial zones and construction of residential complexes due to short-sighted policies.
9. Population growth and demand for more food supplies.
Millions of people all across the world are now faced with the threat of poverty and starvation. The governments should now adopt proactive measures to control or defuse the food crisis if they wish to avoid social unrest and riot. The wrong policies in the past such as conversion of arable land to residential development or construction of plants should be discarded and replaced by wise ones. Greedy investors who help raise the food prices should be recognized and punished.
Catastrophe after catastrophe is taking place in the world. People die every day. War and now famine. A humanitarian crisis is happening on a global scale and if the international community does not do anything about it soon, the world will witness the deaths of millions of people.
Author : Ismail Salami of "Iran Cradle of Civilization