Business & Policy
Rising food prices create crisis threatening global security: UN official
By Barbara Surk THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
By Barbara Surk THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
April 9, 2008, Dubai, United Arab Emirates – The recent outbreak of food riotsis a warning sign that rising food prices could cause unrest andinstability across the world, the UN's top humanitarian official said Tuesday.
Combined with the negative impact of climate change and soaring fuel prices, a “perfect storm'' is brewing for much of the world's population, said John Holmes, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator. “The security implications (of the food crisis) should also not be underestimated as food riots are already being reported across the globe,'' Holmes told a conference in Dubai, addressing challenges facing humanitarian work. His comments came after two days of rioting in Egypt, where the prices for many staples has doubled in the past year. And violent food protests were continuing for a second day in the capital of Haiti. “Current food price trends are likely to increase sharply both the incidence and depth of food insecurity,'' Holmes said, noting a 40-per-cent average rise in prices worldwide since the middle of last year. Holmes said that the biggest challenge to humanitarian work is the effects of climate change and the resulting “extreme weather'' that has doubled the number of recorded disasters _ from an average of 200 a year to 400 per year in the past two decades. Adding food scarcity and expensive fuel to the mix have made for a very volatile situation, he said. “Compounding the challenges of climate change in what some have labelled the perfect storm are the recent dramatic trends in soaring food and fuel prices,'' he said. One of the factors pushing food prices higher and sparking protests all over the world is more expensive diesel fuel, which is used to transport most of the world's food. Along with the riots over food scarcity in Haiti and clashes with police over high prices in northern Egypt, UN employees in Jordan staged a day-long strike for pay raises due to a 50-per-cent rise in prices there. A teenager injured in the clashes in the northern Egyptian city of Mahalla al-Kobra has died from his wounds. In Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, UN peacekeepers fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd outside the presidential palace Tuesday on the second day of protests over soaring food prices. Some protesters were trying to break down the palace gates before the UN troops established a security perimeter around the building.
“We are trying to deal with the situation,'' said Fritz Longchamp, chief of staff to President Rene Preval who was at work inside the palace. The food unrest began last week when Haitians burned cars and attacked a UN police base in the southern city of Les Cayes. At least five people were killed there. The demonstrations reached the capital Monday as thousands marched past the National Palace, some of them crying out: “We're hungry!'' John Powell, the deputy executive director of The United Nation's World Food Program, emphasized the need for developed countries to help governments in the developing world. Developing countries experiencing unrest over high food prices need help in developing “social safety net programs,'' he said. “Riots today mean you need a solution tomorrow,'' Powell said. Governments with no “policy space'' and under pressure from organized discontent in urban centres “is not likely to be the best decision'' in trying to solve the problem, he said. Powell said the planet is getting hungrier with four million people added to the list of those in most dire need for food to survive. The rise of fuel and food prices is unlikely to stop soon and it affects everyone, Powell said. In the past, natural disasters, wars and ethnic conflict made the rural areas most vulnerable to poverty and hunger. Now, the most vulnerable live in the cities, Powell said. “They see food on the shelves but they cannot afford to buy it,'' said Powell. He called urban poverty the “new face of hunger.''