UN ASKS FOR $500 MILLION TO SAVE THE WORLD'S STARVING - or just one thousandth of the cost of the war in Iraq

"There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before. There are food riots in countries where we have not seen them before." (Josette Sheeran, head of the World Food Programme, The Guardian, 26th February)

Class Warfare take up the story of the global food crisis where it left off yesterday. The UN has announced it wants $500 a year extra to deal with the crisis. And it is a crisis! $500 million may sound a lot…well, it is…But it only provides food aid to about 75 million people in 78 countries, less than one tenth of those in dire need of it. Moreover, the figure pales into significance when compared to the cost of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, currently standing, as I write, at almost $498 billion. In other words the UN, hoping to save life, is asking for 1000th of what Washington has spent destroying life in Iraq.

Officials at the UN’s World Food Programme argue that increases in the global price of basic foods are caused by a ‘perfect storm’ of factors: a rise in demand for animal feed from increasingly prosperous populations in India and China who have found a penchant for new meat stuffs, the use of more land and agricultural produce for biofuels, and climate change. Little wonder that for many of the world’s impoverished, up to 80% of their income goes on food

The UN could have cited other factors, such as a system that produced for profit not need, a system that creates the artificial scarcity of commodities in order to maintain profits.

Needless to say, there have been food riots in Mozambique, Morocco, Yemen, Mexico, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal and Uzbekistan. Pakistan has reintroduced rationing for the first time in two decades.

Other countries has moved to head off food-fuelled protest. Russia has responded to the crisis by freezing the price of milk, bread, eggs and cooking oil for six months. Thailand is also preparing a freeze on food staples. After protests around Indonesia, Jakarta has increased public food subsidies.

For its part, India has banned the export of rice except the high-quality basmati variety. Interesting that the better quality rice is destined for the shelves of wealthier countries – far too bloody good for your average Indian prole, especially where there are profits to be had. What, give them the good stuff? Nah, they’d only eat it!

Prospects for the future look bleak, with climatic change anticipated to have a heavy impact in coming decades, with the growing demand for biofuels expected to take more land away from food production and with the rising demand fore meat products. The latter factor is all the more insane when it is considered that it takes 10 kilos of feed to produce one kilo of meat.

Throughout Africa NGOs and top scientists are calling for a moratorium on new biofuels projects as millions of acres of prime agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa are switched from food to fuel. The Food and Agriculture Organisation have reported that 100 million tons of cereals are being diverted to the production of biofuels each year, a figure excessively unacceptable on a continent that has a long history of producing cash crops to service foreign debt. In the US, 60 million tonnes of maize is produced for the biofuel industry. The figure might mean nothing but it is a figure that is more than double the entire UK cereal crop.

The WFP is holding an emergency meeting this coming Friday in the hope it can further address the problem. Needless to say there will be no levelling of criticism at capitalism or its insane production motives, nor a call for an end to a system that prioritises profit over human need. Once again, the mechanisms of capitalism will once again be asked to solve a problem they bloody well help create. I wonder if they'll consider, though, the fact that 78% of the world's starving live in countries that actually produce a food surplus?

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