Food crisis sparks violence across the globe
Across the planet, the price of basic foods are soaring. In many cases, the result has been violence. Focusing on the past few months, here’s a trip around the globe:
Close to home, in Haiti, rising food prices led to political upheaval at the highest level. On April 12, the Senate voted to dismiss Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis.
In previous weeks, violent looting and pillaging overtook several cities in Haiti. Amid the rioting, five people were killed and a UN peacekeeper was dragged from his car and shot dead. According to BBC News, the prices of rice, beans, and fruit have risen 50 percent in Haiti in the past year.
Across the Atlantic, demonstrators in London and across the United Kingdom on April 16 condemned a government plan for mandatory biofuel blending.
Biofuels such as ethanol–which is commonly derived from corn–were once regarded by Western governments as a partial solution to rising fuel costs. However, evidence is now showing that the use of biofuels will likely accelerate climate change, and is definitely contributing to the world’s growing food shortage.
Down to Africa now. Many reports on the crisis have drawn attention to recent riots in Morocco, such as this story in the Financial Post.
To the south, in Ivory Coast, clashes between police and protesters on March 31 left dozens injured. Approximately 1,500 demonstrators overturned parked cars and burned tires while chanting, “We are hungry,” and “Life is too expensive,” allAfrica.com, an electronic news distributor, reported.
That story also reported unrest in nearby Senegal on March 30, in which demonstrators clashed with police. a repeat of similar uprisings in January, which were mirrored in neighbouring Mauritania the same month.
In Burkino Faso, allAfrica’s report continued, food protests in all areas of the country resulted in hundreds of arrests. And to the east in Cameroon, demonstrations against rising food prices in February also turned violent.
Across the continent, in Kenya, where tensions remain high after a contested presidential election in December 2007, the population is also facing food shortages that have led to violence. On April 18, allAfrica.com reported that in the last two months, the price of rice has soared by 75 percent, and in the last year, the price of wheat had risen by 120 percent.
On April 6 in Cairo, Egypt, “widespread public outrage” aimed at rising food prices poured onto the streets, the International Herald Tribune reported. Hundreds of students demonstrated at three universities and riot police fired tear gas into crowds that had gathered in the city’s textile industry. By the end of the day, more than 200 were arrested.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, on April 7 in Jordan, approximately 7,000 UN employees went on strike in a demand for higher wages. The Jerusalem Post reported that the protest was the result of a 50-percent spike in food and fuel prices in the country.
In Yemen, government forces clashed with protesters for the better part of the first week of April. Significant increases in the prices of wheat, rice, and vegetable oil led youth to take to the streets in demand of jobs, Reuters reported.
Back in January 2008, in Pakistan, paramilitary troops were deployed around the country to guard wheat supplies. According to BBC News, wheat shortages have led to large-scale rioting in the past.
In India on April 21, a 12-hour bandh (protest or strike) ground the eastern province of West Bengal to a stand still Opposition parties demanded that something be done about spiralling food prices.
In neighbouring Bangladesh, nearly two dozen people were injured on April 12 when police opened fire with tear gas and used batons to disperse thousands of protesters in the nation’s capital, Dhaka. The crowds were demanding higher wages to help deal with food prices, according to a report in India Daily, which characterized the food shortage as a “silent famine.”
In Burma (also known as Myanmar), increases in the price of rice led to serious budget shortfalls for aid groups working with Burmese refugee groups living on the border of Thailand.
According to a report in the Irrawaddy, a Burmese news magazine based out of Thailand, regular assistance to 130,000 refugees spread across seven camps has been reduced to essential services. The delivery of nonfood items like building supplies, soap, and mosquito nets, has been drastically reduced.
In Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter, Prime Minister Samak Sundarave used his April 6 radio address to alleviate a growing panic in the country. “Rice will never be out of stock,” he claimed. “We’ll never starve.”
According to the New York Times, the rising cost of rice has led to fears of regional unrest across East Asia. In Vietnam, the Times reported on March 29, some of the world’s largest rice producers have placed limits on the amount of rice they export. In Indonesia, soybean shortages have led to protests. And in the Philippines, on March 25, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered a crackdown on hoarders and moved to alleviate growing public unrest.
And finally, on April 17, the Guardian reported that the “hand-to-mouth existence of North Korea’s 23 million inhabitants is at risk of deteriorating into a serious tragedy“.
North Korea’s political situation is partly to blame for the pariah state’s desperate situation. But the UN’s World Food program did warn on April 16 that basic rations are dwindling as a result of prices rising to a point where a single kilogram of rice can cost one-third of a typical North Korean’s monthly salary.
That’s 21 countries.
And that’s not including nations like Mexico or Mozambique, where major demonstrations against rising food prices were held in 2007. Nor Guinea or Uzbekistan, where disturbances related to the rising cost of food were also reported recent months, but from where reliable information is difficult to obtain.
Areas where political circumstances make it difficult to measure the impact of actual food shortages, such as the Palestinian territories’ Gaza Strip, Iraq, Sudan’s Darfur region, and Zimbabwe, were also omitted.
On April 22, Reuters reported that former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan told a news briefing that “We might already be seeing the beginning of major hunger disasters.”
Two days earlier, Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, characterized rising global food prices as a “silent mass murder”. He warned that one day starving people could rise up against their persecutors, Reuters reported, just as they did in the French Revolution.