Across Globe, Food Shortages Prompt Rising Social Unrest
Hunger bashed in the front gate of Haiti’s presidential palace. Hunger poured onto the streets, burning tires and taking on soldiers and the police. Hunger sent the country’s prime minister packing.
Haiti’s hunger, that burn in the belly that so many here feel, has become fiercer than ever in recent days as global food prices spiral out of reach, spiking as much as 45 percent since the end of 2006 and turning Haitian staples like beans, corn and rice into closely guarded treasures.
Saint Louis Meriska’s children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, “They look at me and say, ‘Papa, I’m hungry,’ and I have to look away. It’s humiliating and it makes you angry.”
That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.
In Cairo, Egypt, the military is being put to work baking bread as rising food prices threaten to become the spark that ignites wider anger at a repressive government. In Burkina Faso and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, food riots are breaking out as never before. In reasonably prosperous Malaysia, the ruling coalition was nearly ousted by voters who cited food and fuel price increases as their main concerns.
“It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, the economist and special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. “It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.”
Indeed, as it roils developing nations, the spike in commodity prices — the biggest since the Nixon administration — has pitted the world’s poorer south against the relatively wealthy north, adding to demands for reform of rich nations’ farm and environmental policies. But experts say there are few quick fixes to a crisis tied to so many factors, from strong demand for food from emerging economies like China’s to rising oil prices to the diversion of food resources to make biofuels.
There are no scripts on how to handle the crisis, either.