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Middle East Food Situation

People around the world do not have enough to eat. Many factors threaten the world’s food supply. Nor will the problem be over any time soon. To quote from YubaNet.com:

On 6 March, while visiting the European Union in Brussels, the executive director of the UN World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, warned that high food prices and resulting inflation would continue . . . fuelling discontent on the streets of poorer nations.

. . . Over 25,000 people die from hunger or related illnesses every day across the world, with one child dying every five seconds, according to WFP.

U.N. Secretary -General, Ban Ki-moon warned Monday that the global food crisis has reached emergency proportions, and our current president acted quickly. To quote:

. . . rapidly escalating global food . . . threatens to wipe out seven years of progress in the fight against poverty, . . . He called for short-term emergency measures in many regions to meet urgent food needs and avoid starvation and urged longer-term efforts to significantly increase production of food grain.

. . . Ban’s appeal came as President Bush ordered the release of $200 million in emergency aid to help nations where surging food prices have deepened hunger woes and sparked violent protests . . . Bush’s move came one day after World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s appealed to governments to quickly provide the U.N. World Food Program with $500 million in emergency aid that it needs by May 1.

The emergency includes people in the Middle East. The situation is particularly bad in several countries, according to an earlier editorial in The Middle East Times. Those include Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, and Egypt. To quote:

Last week, the U.N.’s World Food Program, the globe’s main provider of food aid, warned that it would soon have to start rationing deliveries. . . . This is not just bad news for countries like Afghanistan and Ethiopia that depend on its supplies, and for Palestinians who have just seen up to 90 percent of their crops wiped out by extraordinary frosts and cold weather.

. . . World grain reserves are at their lowest levels since records were first kept back in 1960, and the U.S. stockpile had not been this low since 1948. . . Pakistan has re-introduced food ration cards, an unpopular and crisis-driven move that has contributed to the unpopularity of President Pervez Musharraf and helps explain his party’s recent stinging electoral defeat. . . Egypt has extended its own food rationing system. . .

Some food industry executives are already starting to use the dreaded F word for Famine. This could make Saudi Arabia reconsider its decision to stop growing wheat and start importing some 3 million tons a year. It should not. With intelligent use of arable land for food crops, suitable irrigation and seed technology and an end to market-distorting farm subsidies, the world can produce enough food. It is a political problem we face, rather than a food shortage.

IRIN reports that it is particularly troubling in Afghanistan,

Food shortages in Ajristan District of Ghazni Province, central Afghanistan, have forced some families to eat dried grass in order to survive, local people and the district administrator told IRIN.”

. . . According to the World Food Programme (WFP), increases of up to 70 percent in staple food prices, road blockages and other winter-related problems have pushed millions of Afghans into “high risk food-insecurity.”

YubaNet.com reports also that climate change could threaten food security in the Middle East. In addition to the above-named countries, add these countries where there is widespread protest against rising food prices: Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. To quote:

“Climate change will affect food security in all its four dimensions – food availability, food accessibility, food stability and food utilisation,” Will Killmann, chairman of FAO’s working group on climate change, told IRIN on 10 March.

. . . On 3 March Prime Minister of Bahrain Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman al-Khalifa used his weekly meeting with officials and ordinary people to address the issue of food security in the region: “We need to draw lessons from the current spiralling inflation hitting the world and start seriously to think about ensuring food security in the Arab world,” he said.

. . . Recent incidents in Egypt highlight the vulnerability of the Middle East region to the vagaries of reduced agricultural production and the rise in food prices. . . In the past few weeks, there have been food riots or demonstrations – albeit on a smaller scale – against rising food prices in a number of countries in the region, including Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

. . . A number of Gulf states have introduced price controls, including food subsidies and caps on rent increases, to offset the impact of price rises on their populations. The Omani Chamber of Commerce and Industry, for example, proposed on 9 March that food suppliers should control price rises by introducing ceilings on nine basic food items, including rice, wheat flour, sugar, lentils, cooking oil, tea, milk powder, evaporated milk and ghee.

What do people think? Aljazeera collected the views about the food situation from a number of people over several days for an interesting comment thread here.

The World Food Programme, at the United Nations, maintains an excellent website. There you can link to the wildly popular game FreeRice, where your play helps to feed people — a grain at a time. I just donated 600 grains of rice to the cause. I note that I am already addicted to the game.

View my current slide show about the Bush years — “Millennium” — at the bottom of this column.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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5 thoughts on “Middle East Food Situation

  1. The price of diesel fuel ALONE has driven food costs sky high in this country! And ships get even worse mileage…..

  2. The price of diesel fuel ALONE has driven food costs sky high in this country! And ships get even worse mileage…..

  3. The price of diesel fuel ALONE has driven food costs sky high in this country! And ships get even worse mileage…..

  4. Future, I had not thought of this fact. I hope all the energy “giants” who are getting rich are eating well, and the folks on cruise ships. We know they are, of course.
    Thanks, Dan’l, for being such a faithful reader.

  5. Future, I had not thought of this fact. I hope all the energy “giants” who are getting rich are eating well, and the folks on cruise ships. We know they are, of course.
    Thanks, Dan’l, for being such a faithful reader.

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