Monday, April 14, 2008

Food Riots Lead to Haitian Meltdown

In Haiti the food riots were severe enough that a UN "Peacekeeper" was killed, and the Prime Minister was forced to resign.

Food Riots Lead to Haitian Meltdown: On Saturday the Haitian Parliament voted to oust Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis. This was in the wake of riots over food prices. They say "what started out as a protest against food and fuel prices has segued into a political mine field". The situation is described in terms of a power struggle between factions of Haitian leadership, making this sound like the result of manipulation by those factions rather than a natural outgrowth of anger over food prices. That is, it's possible some faction is manipulating anger over food prices to drive people into revolt. Or maybe not.

The Fury of the Poor does a good job of describing the desperate straits being faced by the Haitian poor.

Quote:
...On the roof of the former prison, enterprising women prepare something that looks like biscuits and is even called by that name. The key ingredient, yellow clay, is trucked in from the nearby mountains. The clay is combined with salt and vegetable fat to make dough, which is then dried in the sun.

For many Haitians, the mud biscuits are their only food. They taste of fat, suck the moisture out of the mouth and leave behind an aftertaste of dirt. They often cause diarrhea, but they help to numb the pangs of hunger. "I'm hoping one day I'll have enough food to eat, so I can stop eating these," Marie Noël, who survives with her seven children on the dirt cakes,...

...A daily bowl of rice is almost unaffordable....

"Should we be surprised that despair often turns into violence?" Indeed.

As quited in Food Riots Unlikely To Happen In Philippines? the IMF has warned that food riots are likely to have dire consequences around the world. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that exploding food prices threaten to cause instability in at least 33 countries, including regional powers like Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan.

The article describes four causes:-

  • Ever growing world population while there is a decrease in arable land
  • Climate change causing loss of arable land due to several factors
  • Because of changing eating habits, more and more arable land and virgin forests are being turned into pasture for livestock. The yield per acre in calories of land given over to pasture is substantially lower than that of arable land.
  • The World Bank is demanding "market reforms" including removal of import tarrifs
  • Speculators are causing a rise in price of "raw materials" making it seem more attractive to grow food as "energy crops" rather than as food
  • Millions of people displaced by wars and unable to do productive things like raise their own crops

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