Food Riots and other choices

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere – three quarters of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Haitians have company – more than anyone thought. The news from the World Bank is that, cough, poverty might be more pervasive than they thought. Looking back at their figures, they’ve revised up their estimates of the number of people living in poverty from 985 million to 1.4 billion, a more than 40% increase.

The Bank’s spin is that poverty is still lower now than it was in 1981, when there were 1.9 billion people living in poverty. But most of the world’s reduction in poverty comes from China. Excluding China, world poverty fell from 40% to 30% over the past 25 years.
Read the full BBC report.

Worse, these figures don’t include the recent increases in food prices. Poor people around the world, particularly in cities where you need money to buy food, are finding meals increasingly hard to come by. Ethiopia, as this report shows, is facing food price inflation of over 40%. Things are so hard that, in some cases, families are forced to choose which of their children they will save from hunger.

Some have taken to the streets rather than face this choice. In Haiti, as Reuters reports below, food riots have broken out again. Sadly, they’re not likely to be the only ones we see as winter approaches. And, if you read French, you can see here how women are in the front lines not only of growing their own food, but in organising for it too…

Haiti hit with new protests over food costs
Mon Aug 25, 2008 5:17pm EDT
By Joseph Guyler Delva

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – Demonstrators erected burning barricades in the streets of Haiti’s southern city of Les Cayes on Monday to protest rising food prices in the impoverished Caribbean country.

Several hundred demonstrators joined the short-lived protest in the Les Cayes slum of La Savane, before they were dispersed by U.N. peacekeepers and Haiti police firing tear gas.

But the unrest was a reminder of the food riots in Les Cayes in April, when five people were killed in running street battles with police and U.N. troops over the high cost of living.

Those same clashes ignited demonstrations in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and elsewhere across the country that prompted the Senate to fire Prime Minister Edouard Alexis on April 12.

Alexis’ lame-duck cabinet has continued to deal with current affairs while a new government is being formed but political infighting in parliament has dragged out the transition process.

“It’s been over four months since the country is being led by a resigning government which lacks legitimacy to address the problems,” Marc Antoine, a Les Cayes demonstrator, told Reuters on Monday.

“We launched a series of protests in April, because the price of rice and other food products were too high but prices have doubled since then,” Antoine said. “And president (Rene) Preval and politicians in parliament are not doing anything to address the problems,” he said.

“Political parties and lawmakers are fighting over who should control the next cabinet. But they don’t seem to care for the population that is starving,” added Malerbe Jean-Claude, another demonstrator.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Trott)