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article imageFood Crisis Imperils World Behaviors, Social Consequences Grave

By Carol Forsloff     Jan 14, 2009 in World
Food security is deteriorating. A food shortage is engulfing Earth. In Pakistan armed troops have been assigned to guard grain elevators. Some authorities say this food shortage could exist for decades.
WARRING NATIONS FEEL FOOD STRAIN; Suicides Growing in Prussia and Parents Killing Children, Socialist Tells Diet. PETROGRAD DISTRESS ACUTE Britain Takes Control of All Fats.
French Wheat Supply Is Very Short. Heavy Deficit in French Wheat.. Those blaring headlines look almost contemporary enough to make some of us tremble. Is it true, or partly true, that some of the worst of these headlines are true today? Are there parallels?
In 1917 the world was at war. Socialists were a mysterious bunch that the West worried about. Food was in short supply at different times during the era. So people were worried about the status of food and its distribution worldwide.
The year of tragedy, 1917, brought reports from Prussia about parents killing their children, and children killing their parents, as well as people killing themselves because of hunger and food shortages. Is this something that might happen again?
Contemporary headlines discuss food shortages, rising prices of food due to increase in the cost of fuel, and speculations about food riots and the fact that serious hunger might even affect the United States. So a repeat of 1917 is something examined now, and started to be looked at in earnest more than a year ago when George Bush told the United States that the foundation of the US economy was strong.
Because of the growing demand for grain and other basic food items, some global authorities maintain food shortages could come about and exist for decades. Already in February 2008 a scarcity of grain and wheat were being seen.
By April 2008 the Economist was reporting food shortages that had taken people by surprise. This is what one UN official said. “The era of cheap food is over. The transition to a new equilibrium is proving costlier, more prolonged and much more painful than anyone had expected.
“We are the canary in the mine,” says Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN's World Food Programme, the largest distributor of food aid. Usually, a food crisis is clear and localised. The harvest fails, often because of war or strife, and the burden in the affected region falls heavily on the poorest. This crisis is different. It is occurring in many countries simultaneously, the first time that has happened since the early 1970s. And it is affecting people not usually hit by famines. “For the middle classes,” says Ms Sheeran, “it means cutting out medical care. For those on $2 a day, it means cutting out meat and taking the children out of school. For those on $1 a day, it means cutting out meat and vegetables and eating only cereals. And for those on 50 cents a day, it means total disaster.”
The Earth Institute has spelled it out and said specifically that there is a “fast-unfolding food shortage engulfing the entire world.“
Specifically the Institute mentions that the world has not experienced anything quite like this (I would assume including in 1917) and that the food shortages are already beginning to break down world order. The Institute gives an example of rustlers stealing rice in Thailand with villagers guarding fields with shotguns. In the Sudan refugee camps are having difficulty receiving food because in early 2008 out of 56 grain-filled trucks only 20 were recovered and 24 unaccounted for. In Pakistan armed troops have been assigned to guard grain elevators. The common nature of food riots, the Institute writes, is demonstrated by the fact that in bread lines at bakeries where state-subsidized bread is given out there are food riots.
All of this has led to some international politics with Russia, the Ukraine and Argentina restricting wheat exports while Viet Nam, Cambodia and Egypt are restricting the exportation of rice.
This has happened because of the growth of the earth’s population, the decrease in arable land where food can be grown, croplands lost to industrial expansions, the backlog of agricultural technology is dwindling, reducing farm productivity, and climate change has presented another new set of risks. These risks have involved destructive storms, heat waves, floods and other calamities that affect harvest expansion. Now here comes the direst statement, that given other evidence from the United Nations is likely something the world needs to know, according to the Institute:
“Business-as-usual is no longer a viable option. Food security will deteriorate further unless leading countries can collectively mobilize to stabilize population, restrict the use of grain to produce automotive fuel, stabilize climate, stabilize water tables and aquifers, protect cropland, and conserve soils. Stabilizing population is not simply a matter of providing reproductive health care and family planning services. It requires a worldwide effort to eradicate poverty. Eliminating water shortages depends on a global attempt to raise water productivity similar to the effort launched a half-century ago to raise land productivity, an initiative that has nearly tripled the world grain yield per hectare. None of these goals can be achieved quickly, but progress toward all is essential to restoring a semblance of food security.
This troubling situation is unlike any the world has faced before. The challenge is not simply to deal with a temporary rise in grain prices, as in the past, but rather to quickly alter those trends whose cumulative effects collectively threaten the food security that is a hallmark of civilization. If food security cannot be restored quickly, social unrest and political instability will spread and the number of failing states will likely increase dramatically, threatening the very stability of civilization.”
That 1917 headline looks awful, but the headlines possible for 2009 could be worse, given the information from international sources.
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Note: Bob Ewing of Digital Journal, did this same news story at the same time mine was being completed. The emphasis on this story is the similarity with 1917, only worse and less the specific details of the environment than the social consequences. Those interested in this issue should direct themselves to Ewing's story as well. Please also read Adriana Struijt's articles on food shortages in Africa, including the one on Kenya today.
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