Thursday, December 20, 2007

IS A WORLD WIDE FAMINE IN THE WORKS?

Thomas Riggins

Was it just seven years ago that the new millennium dawned? I remember all the talk about how this new era would give us a chance to escape from all the follies of the 20th century. Well, it didn't take long to realize that all the old follies were still with us, waiting to be repeated.

World hunger is one of them. The last century was dotted with mass famines, all of them man made. Surely the UN and the leading nations of the world would not let that sorry record repeat itself?

It appears, however, that they will. The UN is doing its part to help prevent famines, but the UN can only do what the leading nations, represented on the Security Council will allow it to do. We must remember that any criticism of the UN is in reality a criticism of the five permanent members of the SC.

At any rate, the UN has warned us that a famine of Biblical proportions may be on the way. Tuesday's New York Times has the story. "World Food Supply is Shrinking, U.N. Agency Warns," by Elisabeth Rosenthal (12-18-07). Here is the gist of it.

Jacques Diouf, who runs the UN Food and Agriculture organization has stated that there "is a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food" in the coming years. That doesn't sound very good at all. Rosenthal, reporting from Rome, says his reason for announcing this is that because of "an 'unforeseen [?] and unprecedented' shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring [good old supply and demand] to historic levels."

There appears to be only 12 weeks worth of wheat and 8 of corn left in storage (based on world wide consumption levels.) to feed the world in case of an emergency. One reason for this is that it is more profitable to grow non food crops than food crops. There has been "a shift away from farming for human consumption to crops for biofuels and cattle feed" [more McDonald's burgers for the First World obese]. And, don't overlook the fact that "the early effects of global warming have decreased crop yields in some crucial places."

The leader of the World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, is quoted as saying, "We're concerned that we are facing the perfect storm for the world's hungry." Other experts are equally glum. A major, crop disease or climate change in an important area would put the hungary in "a risky situation." This has already happened in Australia (lack of rain) and In Ukraine (also climate change) with less food being produced.

The UN's Diouf thinks the advanced countries will have to come up with new ideas to reflect the new economic and environmental realities. New ideas are in the works, but they may be based on putting people before profits. When has the US done that lately?

But not to worry here in the USA. We will be able to ride it out. Ms. Sheeran noted that, "In the U.S., Australia and Europe, there's a very substantial capacity to adapt to the effects on food -- with money, technology, research and development. In the developing world, there isn't." It's comforting to know that if disaster strikes it will be the poor of the Third World who die off while we will continue to pollute the atmosphere, destroy the climate, and have all the junk food we need to see us through.

2 comments:

Bill said...

Well at least it'd be a change of pace.

normandmarkowitz said...

Tom's piece is very important. Serious gains were made in the struggle against world hunger, but those gains have not only been largely reversed, but hunger as a way of life, chronic malnutrition, has increased globally as the rich countries continue to misuse agricultural lands in the poor countries to produce specialty crops and livestock for themselves, soy products, fruits and vegetables, beef and chicken, which literally reduces the consumption of grains and other foodstuffs for the poor in those countries. Capitalism has its program for world hunger. Earn enough money to buy your food, go to a country, legally or illegally, where food prices are relatively cheap, even if you are earning very little, or starve. In the long run, globalization will solve all problems, but, as John Maynard Keynese said but such thinkers during the depression, in the long run everybody is dead(he was pointing to the possibility of social revolution if governments responded to the depression with business as usual. For the poor of the world, social revolution looks like it may be necessary to prevent both chronic malnutrition, and, in the worst case scenario that Tom is writing about, starvation