Monday, 25 August 2008


2.8 billion people - nearly half of the world's population - live on $2 a day or less. When you are living on $2 a day, most of your income is spent on food - not processed chicken dinners and frozen pizzas, but the basics: flour, corn, rice. This is what keeps you and your family alive.

When you spend $1.50 a day out of your $2 income on basic food, you don't have much wriggle-room. So when food prices go up by 75%, or 130%, its not a matter of cutting back in other areas. Instead it means that you and your children will eat less, and go to bed hungry at night.

2.8 billion people - nearly half of the world's population - have been put in this situation during the last year.

If you've ever gone on a strict diet, or fasted for a day for religious reasons, you might have an inclinling of an idea of what hunger is like. But you know nothing of days and weeks and months of hunger - you can't even really conceive of it.

Haitians use the expression "grangou klowox" or "eating bleach", to describe the daily hunger pains they face as a result of rising food prices, because of the burning feeling in their stomachs. That's why they riot.

Fear of inflation, fear of a house-price collapse, fear of interest rate increases - these are notihing when compared to fear of hunger, and it is that fear that is rapidly spreading around the world as prices rise.

And why are prices rising?

Partly because you drive and fly.

A big impetus behind rising basic food prices is the rise in the price of oil due to supply scarcity (and a lot of oil goes into mechanised agriculture) combined with a widespread swich of agricultural land to the biofuel crops that are more valuable than food crops.

In other words, as we reach and pass peak oil, oil prices are inexhorably rising as people compete for the remaining oil production. On one side of that competition are the 15% of the world's people who drive and fly and waste beyond the wildest imagination of our ancestors. And on the other side are the 45% of the world's people who live from day to day on $2 or less.

On one side you have the shiney new Terminal 5, and on the other hungry children. On one side car trips to Tesco to buy food flown in from the other side of the world, and on the other the feeling of "eating bleach".

So next time you're filling up your petrol tank (one person's food for the year) or flying off for a weekend break (a year's food for a village?), spare a thought for some hungry person in Cote dIvore, or Haiti, or Mexico, or Egypt, because that's who's dinner your burning.

And get prepared to either harden your conscience or change your behaviour because, unfortunately, this is a story that is not going away.

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