World Food Program Warns Of 'Silent Tsunami' Of HungerApril 22, 2008 15:12 Ration cards. Genetically modified crops. The end of pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap supermarkets.
These possible solutions to the first global food crisis since World War II — which the World Food Program says already threatens 20 million of the poorest children — are complex and controversial. And they may not even solve the problem as demand continues to soar.
A "silent tsunami" of hunger is sweeping the world's most desperate nations, said Josette Sheeran, the WFP's executive director, speaking Tuesday at a London summit on the crisis.
The skyrocketing cost of food staples, stoked by rising fuel prices, unpredictable weather and demand from India and China, has already sparked sometimes violent protests across the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.
The price of rice has more than doubled in the last five weeks, she said. The World Bank estimates food prices have risen by 83 percent in three years.
"What we are seeing now is affecting more people on every continent," Sheeran told a news conference.
Hosting talks with Sheeran, lawmakers and experts, British Prime Gordon Brown said the spiraling prices threaten to plunge millions back into poverty and reverse progress on alleviating misery in the developing world.
"Tackling hunger is a moral challenge to each of us and it is also a threat to the political and economic stability of nations," Brown said.
Malaysia's embattled prime minister is already under pressure over the price increases and has launched a major rice-growing project. Indonesia's government needed to revise its annual budget to respond.
Unrest over the food crisis has led to deaths in Cameroon and Haiti, cost Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis his job, and caused hungry textile workers to clash with police in Bangladesh.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said more protests in other developing nations appear likely. "We are going through a very serious crisis and we are going to see lots of food strikes and demonstrations," Annan told reporters in Geneva.
At streetside restaurants in Lome, Togo, even the traditional balls of corn meal or corn dough served with vegetable soup are shrinking. Once as big as a boxer's fist, the dumplings are now the size of a tennis ball — but cost twice as much.
In Yaounde, Cameroon, civil servant Samuel Ebwelle, 51, said he fears food prices will rise further.
"We are getting to the worst period of our life," he said. "We've had to reduce the number of meals we take a day from three to two. Breakfast no longer exists on our menu."
Even if her call for $500 million in emergency funding is met, food aid programs — including work to feed 20 million poor children — will be hit this year, Sheeran said.
President Bush has released $200 million in urgent aid. Britain pledged an immediate $59.7 million on Tuesday.
Even so, school feeding projects in Kenya and Cambodia have been scaled back and food aid has been cut in half in Tajikistan, Sheeran said.
Yet while angry street protesters call for immediate action, long term solutions are likely to be slow, costly and complicated, experts warn.
And evolving diets among burgeoning middle classes in India and China will help double the demand for food — particularly grain intensive meat and dairy products — by 2030, the World Bank says.
Robert Zoellick, the bank's head, claims as many as 100 million people could be forced deeper into poverty. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said rising food costs threaten to cancel strides made toward the goal of cutting world poverty in half by 2015.
"Now is not too soon to be thinking about the longer-term solutions," said Alex Evans, a former adviser to Britain's Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.
He said world leaders must help increase food production, rethink their push on biofuels — which many blame for pushing up food prices — and consider anew the once taboo topic of growing genetically modified crops.
But Evans, now a visiting fellow at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, said increasing the amount of land that can be farmed in the developing world will be arduous.
"It's almost like new oil or gas fields; they'll tend to be the hardest to reach places, that need new roads and new infrastructure to be viable," he said.
The will to increase food production exists, as does most of the necessary skills, but there are major obstacles, including a lack of government investment in agriculture and — in Africa particularly — a scarcity of fertilizers, good irrigation and access to markets.
"Many African farmers are very entrepreneurial, but they simply aren't connected to markets," said Lawrence Haddad, an economist and director of Britain's Institute of Development Studies. "They find there are no chilling plants for milk and no grinding mills for coffee."
Haddad said the likely impact of food price increases should have been anticipated. "The fact no one has previously made the link between agriculture and poverty is quite incredible," he said.
Just as new land for farming is available in Russia and Brazil, new genetically modified crops resistant to drought, or which deliver additional nutrients, could be better targeted to different regions of the developing world, Evans said. "The solutions are more nuanced than we previously thought," he added.
Sheeran said developing world governments, particularly in Africa, will need to dedicate at least 10 percent of future budgets to agriculture to boost global production.
Some experts predict other countries could follow the example of Pakistan, which has revived the use of ration cards for subsidized wheat.
The production of biofuels also needs to be urgently re-examined, Brown said.
He acknowledged that Britain this month introduced targets aimed at producing 5 percent of transport fuel from biofuels by 2010, but said his government and others should review their policies.
Production of biofuel leads to the destruction of forests and takes up land available to grow crops for food.
Brown said the impact of the food crisis won't just be felt in the developing world, but also in the checkout lane of Western supermarkets. "It it is not surprising that we see our shopping bills go up," Brown said.
Many analysts, including Britain's opposition leader David Cameron, claim that people in the West will need to eat less meat — and consume, or waste, less food in general. Some expect the shift in attitudes to herald the end of supermarket giveaways and cost-cutting grocery stores that stack goods to the ceiling and sell in bulk.
Citizens in the West, China and India must realize that the meat on their plate and biofuels in their expensive cars carry a cost for those in the developing world, Evans said.
Sheeran believes many already understand the impact. "Much of the world is waking up to the fact that food does not spontaneously appear on grocery store shelves," she said.
Riots, Instability Spread As Food Prices SkyrocketApril 14, 2008 16:53 Riots from Haiti to Bangladesh to Egypt over the soaring costs of basic foods have brought the issue to a boiling point and catapulted it to the forefront of the world's attention, the head of an agency focused on global development said Monday.
"The finance ministers were in shock, almost in panic this weekend," he said on CNN's "American Morning," in a reference to top economic officials who gathered in Washington. "There are riots all over the world in the poor countries ... and, of course, our own poor are feeling it in the United States."
World Bank President Robert Zoellick has said the surging costs could mean "seven lost years" in the fight against worldwide poverty.
"While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs, and it is getting more and more difficult every day," Zoellick said late last week in a speech opening meetings with finance ministers.
"The international community must fill the at least $500 million food gap identified by the U.N.'s World Food Programme to meet emergency needs," he said. "Governments should be able to come up with this assistance and come up with it now."
Commentary: How Would-Be Assassin'S Bullets Changed MeApril 14, 2008 12:20 On February 11, a group of renegade soldiers invaded my home. As I walked toward my house, I was not aware that they had disarmed my guards and broken into the house, knocking down doors looking for me. But as I walked up the street -- ironically, Robert F. Kennedy Boulevard, named for one of my heroes -- I saw one of the renegades and knew that he was going to shoot me. As he aimed for my heart, I turned to run. Instead of the left side of my chest, he shot me twice in the right side of the back.
The shooter used "dum dum" bullets, illegal to manufacture and banned by the Geneva Convention because they expand and fragment inside the body, creating an explosion of shrapnel. One piece of shrapnel took a trajectory toward my spinal column. It stopped 2 mm short.
I was told later that between the moment that I was shot and the moment I arrived at the hospital, I lost 4 liters of blood -- 80 percent of the blood in my body. I was also later told that if I had arrived at the hospital five minutes later I would have, without question, been dead.
Oddly, during that time, I was completely conscious. I remember speaking to my brother, who cared for me while we were waiting for an ambulance. I was not particularly concerned about myself. There were about 30 other people going through my mind -- soldiers, staff, some internally displaced Timorese, and relatives. I asked if anyone else in my compound had been wounded or killed. I was reassured that they had not.
I rode in a battered old ambulance from my home to the hospital. Hanging onto the seats of the ambulance because it had no seat belts, I was willing myself to stay alive. In these minutes, I felt that if I died, my country would explode into violence.
It was not until I was delivered into the hands of doctors that I lost consciousness. Even then, in that dream state between consciousness and unconsciousness, I had vivid images. I felt that I was surrounded by a group of people, people were trying to force the remaining life from me. I was trying to ask them why, what I had done to deserve this. "At least," I said, "tell me what I've done wrong."
A thundering voice interrupted them, saying: "Leave him alone. He's done nothing wrong." Suddenly the others left.
I am not one to try and explain such occurrences. But I believe that at that point, I returned to life. And I believe that, while the doctors in East Timor, and in Darwin, Australia, were unquestionably critical to saving my life, I was also blessed by God. It seems that I was given a second chance.
I have, at moments, been extremely saddened reflecting on the great men, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who did not escape an assassin's bullet. I reflect on the terrible loss the world experienced at their deaths, and I cannot help wondering why I, a much more flawed person and a lesser man, have been spared when they were not.
Since childhood, I have always been disturbed by the injustices in our world, a world with tens of millions malnourished or starved, with no access to clean water, while others live in mansions and spend tens of thousands of dollars on cars and jewelry without even thinking. I have seen both clearly. I lived in exile in the West, including Manhattan for 24 years during the occupation of East Timor. And I have returned home to my Timorese people, among the poorest in the world.
I have been asked more than once how the assassination attempt has changed me. I would say that it has, primarily, reaffirmed my personal conviction and my ambition to lift people out of extreme poverty. Today, I have no other goal or ambition. The recent events have only served to reaffirm my lifelong commitment to helping the poor.
I have always kept a stock of packaged new and used clothes in my house. When I would travel around the countryside, I'd often load up the back of a car with these packages. When we would drive through a village, the children would come running. I would get out and give away the clothes and soccer balls.
Other times, I would leave my security and entourage behind and take a minibus back into town. Like other developing countries, our minibuses are usually packed with 20-30 people. They would be surprised and happy to see me board the bus and ride with them. Often I have had the bus stop at a street café and I would buy everyone a meal for $1 apiece. Perhaps for other politicians these are photo opportunities. For me, they have been one of the deep pleasures of being home after being away for so long.
I am saddened by the fact that these pleasures may be gone for me now. No longer will my security guards listen when I tell them to stay outside a restaurant. I expect that I will no longer be able to travel without a convoy, or walk away from my security to distribute clothing at a village on the road. We have lost something. But we will find a way to remain close.
Our country will need to get to the bottom of these events to heal from them. An investigation has been ongoing, and there is increasing evidence pointing a finger at external elements that were supporting the renegade Alfredo Reinado. These are elements interested in destabilizing East Timor, plunging it into an endless civil war so it could be declared a failed state.
In fact they have achieved the opposite. I have survived them, and we have survived them. Instead of plunging into chaos, my people have united as never before. Our political leaders stepped up in the sudden absence of their president, showing political maturity beyond their years of experience.
Since the attempted assassination, there hasn't been a single violent incident. Even the rival youth and gang groups have stopped fighting. Almost all elements involved in the attacks surrendered peacefully. I expect that those remaining will follow shortly. Many of those who were internally displaced by the violence of 2006, sensing the change, have begun to return to their homes.
I am returning home in the next days, to do all I can to realize my dreams for East Timor -- to continue lifting the Timorese people out of poverty, and to create a Zone of Peace where all forms of violence are abandoned.
World Bank Chief Calls For Immediate Action On Deepening Global Food CrisisApril 13, 2008 21:15 The president of the World Bank yesterday urged immediate action to deal with sharply rising food prices, which have caused hunger and violence in several countries.
Robert B. Zoellick said the international community has to "put our money where our mouth is" now to help hungry people. Zoellick spoke as the bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, ended two days of meetings in Washington.
He called on governments to rapidly carry out commitments to provide the U.N. World Food Program with $500 million in emergency aid by May 1. Prices have only risen further since the program issued that appeal, so it is urgent that governments step up, he said.
Zoellick said that the fall of the government in Haiti over the weekend after a wave of deadly rioting and looting over food prices underscores the importance of quick international action.
He said the bank is granting an additional $10 million to Haiti for food programs.
Zoellick said that international finance meetings are "often about talk," but he noted a "greater sense of intensity and focus" among ministers; now, he said, they have to "translate it into greater action."
The bank, he said, is responding to needs in a number of other countries with conditional cash-transfer programs, food and seeds for planting in the new season.
Tibet - China "Suicides" Of Tibetan Monks; They Were To Recognise The Next Dalai LamaApril 11, 2008 12:09 Two of the oldest and most respected Tibetan Buddhist monks have died under mysterious circumstances - officially, "they committed suicide" - over the course of the last two months in Shigatse, the second-largest Tibetan city. Both were staunch supporters of the Dalai Lama, whose successor they were supposed to recognise. This is confirmed by various Tibetan and Indian sources, who are remaining anonymous for their own safety, and explain "The news is only now coming to light because the government had tried to obfuscate it".
The two elderly monks - Gyaltsen Tsepa Lobsang and Yangpa Locho, both 71 years old - were found hanged in the monastery of Tashilhunpo, the official seat of the Panchen Lama and the setting of one of the most violent anti-China demonstrations ever conducted in Tibet. According to some local lamas, the government and the monastery's abbots have always humiliated and ostracised the two monks, who were "guilty" of having educated the instigators of the revolt (which took place in the first half of the 1990's), and were above all responsible for the recognition of the eleventh Panchen Lama, who was later abducted by the communist authorities.
The tenth Panchen Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, died in 1995 in a completely unexpected manner, in Shiagatse, immediately after renouncing his pro-China positions and delivering a harsh address against the communist authorities.
In May of 1995, after hearing the favourable opinions of some of the monks of Tashilhunpo (including the two "suicides"), the Dalai Lama recognised the new Panchen Lama in the little Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, then a 6-year-old boy. To weaken the authority of the Dalai Lama, the Office of Religious Affairs of the Chinese communist party in November of the same year chose Gyaincain Norbu, another 6-year-old boy, alleging special religious reasons.
After his recognition, the young Geghun was abducted by the police, and has not been seen since. The repeated international requests to see the child, including on the part of the United Nations, have always been rejected by Beijing, which replies that the youngster and his family "do not want to be disturbed by outside visitors, because this could have negative effects". The second Panchen Lama is not liked among the Tibetans, so he lives in China.
The Panchen Lama is the second most important political-spiritual figure for all of Tibetan Buddhism. He has the task of guiding the young Dalai Lama until he comes of age, and until then the Panchen Lama makes the most important decisions concerning Tibet in his stead. Furthermore, some ancient traditions say that the monks who recognise the Panchen Lama - if they are still alive - are consulted for the recognition of the new Dalai Lama.
According to some Tibetan monks, the death of Lobsang and Locho could be connected to this function: last September, in fact, Beijing released a new law that regulates reincarnations in Tibetan Buddhism, leaving the decisive initiative to political, rather than religious, leaders. In this way, the Chinese government intends to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, securing for itself the fidelity of his successor. Gyaltsen Tsepa Lobsang died a few days after the approval of the law; Yangpa Locho died two months later.
China Olympic Protests GrowApril 10, 2008 09:14 The Olympic torch is being flown to Buenos Aires from San Francisco as pressure grows on world leaders to boycott the opening ceremonies of the Beijing games because of Chinese human rights abuses.
The route of the torch relay was altered in San Francisco yesterday to avoid demonstrations against Chinese rule in Tibet that disrupted its passage through London and Paris.
The 19-city journey has become a focal point for demonstrations against Chinese human rights abuses since a crackdown on protests in the Tibet region last month. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, called today for an investigation into the clashes between Chinese troops and protesters that may have killed hundreds of people.
``I appealed to the international community to carry out a thorough investigation,'' the Dalai Lama told reporters near Tokyo's Narita airport. ``As far as we know, at least a few hundred people were killed in the Tibetan area.''
China blames the Dalai Lama for instigating the biggest protests in Tibet in almost 20 years and says his supporters are trying to sabotage the Beijing Games. ``I am sure the Dalai clique will plan something to try to disrupt the torch relay in Lhasa,'' Qiangba Puncog, chairman of Tibet's regional government, said yesterday. ``Life will proceed as normal'' in the Tibetan capital, he said.
China's dealings with the government of Sudan, which is fighting a violent conflict with rebels in its southern region of Darfur, have also drawn attention. Before the San Francisco leg of the torch relay, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a statement in which he joined calls for President George W. Bush to consider a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing games.
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