Hunger and malnutrition are getting far worse due to rising food prices. Even those fortresses of global capitalism, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are worried about food prices rising around the world. Wheat prices went up by 130% in the past year, while rice prices rose by three-quarters.
By Jon Dale and Jan Rybak, Socialist Party
World Bank president Robert Zoellick warned that spiralling prices could push a further 100 million people in poor countries into poverty and hunger.
It has been the mounting anger of working-class and poor people that pushed these big business representatives into statements of concern. There have been riots and protests in Egypt, Haiti, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and others of the countries suffering most from this food crisis.
In Egypt, 20% of the 78 million population already lives below the appalling poverty line of US$2 a day, with another 20% hovering just above. Around 4% of Egyptians live in extreme poverty.
Striking workers and youth fought with Egypt’s police in the city of Mahalla al-Kubra on 6-7 April. At least two were shot dead. The largest factory in the Middle East, Misr Spinning and Weaving, (and with well-organised and militant workers) was occupied by hundreds of police.
Average household expenditure in Egypt on basic foodstuffs and services has risen by 50% since January. Families are lucky if they eat meat once a month. The staple diet of bread has soared in price despite subsidies, due to the higher cost of imported wheat and corrupt profiteering. In an attempt to reduce prices, President Hosni Mubarak cut custom duties on some imports on 2 April.
In the West African state of Ivory Coast, hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women, demonstrated in the streets of Abidjan against the massive price rises of food and fuel. Police baton charged the crowd and shot live bullets into the demonstration killing one woman.
After two days of mass protest, however, Ivorian president Gbagbo was forced to give in and reduce the price for staple foods and petrol.
There is no ‘natural’ shortage of food worldwide. In fact, last year’s global grain harvest of 2.1 billion tonnes broke the previous record by 5%. Poor weather had an effect on some foods but many food prices are more affected by the taking over of agricultural land for biofuels, by spiralling oil prices and by the grossly unequal distribution of land and wealth.
The growing world economic crisis will hit hardest at the poor, both within nations and globally. The World Bank’s emergency measures will at best only relieve the immediate effects of this crisis.
The victory for the workers and poor in the Ivory Coast and the potential strength of protests such as in Egypt worried the World Bank and IMF. They could see that there could be growing demands not just for protests but for wider movements, such as general strikes, against the price rises and the capitalist system that produces them.