The List: The World’s Most Dangerous Food Crises

Soaring energy prices, growing demand from India and China, the rise of biofuels, and increasingly unpredictable weather have spawned a global food crisis that stretches from Port-au-Prince to Pyongyang. This week, FP looks at the next places likely to be rocked by shortages, riots, poverty, and hunger.

Gerald Bourke/World Food Programme/Getty Images

Gerald Bourke/World Food Programme/Getty Images

North Korea

Undernourished population: 35 percent

Rice price: up 186 percent since April 2007

Overall food prices: up 70 percent

In 2007, catastrophic flooding wiped out anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of North Koreas staple corn and rice crops. Earlier this month, the regime announced it was suspending the food ration system in its capital for six months, a sign that leader Kim Jong Ils administration is bracing itself for another crisis. The North regularly produces only about 80 percent of what it consumes, a figure likely to shrink to about 60 percent this year. But that hasnt stopped the regime from alienating the very donorsinternational aid organizations, the West, and South Koreathat have aided it in years past. Kim has annoyed his counterparts in the West and South Korea with harsh rhetoric and continual delays in nuclear negotiations. Responding to the tough stance of new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Kims party newspaper Rodong Sinmun vowed that North Korea will be able to live as it wishes without any help from the South. Maybe thats true for Kim and his associates, but for the 6.5 million North Koreans who live with chronic food insecurity, it spells trouble.

Prediction: The current food crisis could be the worst the country has ever seen, according to an unnamed North Korean official quoted in USA Today. Thats saying a lot, considering that famine during the 1990s killed an estimated 2 million people.



Undernourished population: 20 percent

Wheat price: up 66 percent since January 2007

Were used to hearing about political unrest in Pakistan, a nuclear state at the center of the U.S.-led war on terror whose military president last year suspended the judiciary, spawning weeks of protests, and whose charismatic former prime minister was assassinated last December. But when President Pervez Musharrafs party was voted out of power during Februarys parliamentary elections, the most likely reason was the rising price of wheat. The population had grown increasingly suspicious of government leaders, believing them to be in collusion with mill owners, to be smuggling food commodities into Afghanistan to make bigger profits, and perhaps even to have artificially created shortages to deflect attention away from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Half of Pakistans 160 million people now face food insecurity, with the number of people suffering from food insecurity rising 28 percent during the past year. As average food prices have risen 35 percent in the last year, workers have seen only an 18 percent rise in the minimum wage, prompting government officials to deploy troops to protect food stores and to reinstate a food rationing program for the first time in 20 years.

Prediction: The U.N. World Food Program predicts the price of wheat flour may shoot up 40 percent or more in the coming months. Perhaps the worst is yet to come.



Undernourished population: 6 percent

Rice price: up 25 percent since March 2007

Cooking oil price: up 40 percent

Tofu price: up 50 percent

Its little wonder that protests are growing more frequent as the Indonesian government scrambles to pacify citizens outraged by their inability to afford basic staples: Indonesia depends on imports to meet 70 percent of its food demand. The World Bank estimates that half the population lives in poverty, and Indonesias poor spend around 70 percent of their income on food. In January, thousands took to the streets to protest soybean prices, resulting in a cut in soybean import taxes. Protests erupted again in March when the media reported that a pregnant mother had starved to death. And in April, students led protests against skyrocketing commodity prices, wearing strips of black tape over their mouths to signify their inability to afford food.

The government is well aware of Indonesias history of price-related political upheavals. A similar crisis in 1965 resulted in the installation of the countrys famous dictator Suharto, and another in 1998 led to his ousting. But although the government seems to be in full crisis mode now, the agricultural sector has actually been in decline for decades, with population growth outpacing rice production for at least the last 10 years. And though the amount of capital made available by banks from 2001 to 2006 has more than quadrupled, the proportion of those loans going to the agricultural sector has dropped a quarter.

Prediction: An economist with an Indonesian think tank told Agence France Presse, If in three months there is no action from the government, I really worry there is going to be social unrest.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images


Undernourished population: 45 percent

White maize price: up 36 percent from the 2002-2006 average

Those who remember the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s might think that hunger in the drought-stricken country in the Horn of Africa is nothing new. But theyd be wrong. According to Josette Sheeran, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, Ethiopia represents the new face of hunger, where food is on the shelves but people simply cant afford the basics. Whereas the famine of the 1980s was largely due to drought, rising prices are the main culprit today. Whats particularly worrisome is that even with 11 million people experiencing food insecurity this year, Ethiopia is still considered a stabilizing force in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea, for instance, is still recovering from decades of war with Ethiopia, and a whopping 72 percent of its population is undernourished. Djibouti, which imports all its staple foods, is being scorched by drought. And Somalia, of course, is the regions basket case, with an estimated 677,000 people fleeing Mogadishu in 2007.

Prediction: If the regions rain forecast for the next couple of months is accurate, there is no relief in sight.



Undernourished population: 36 percent

Wheat price: up 100 percent since February 2008

Corruption, a huge influx of Somali refugees, and fighting in the north between the government and Shiite rebels compound what is already a grim economic picture. Last year alone, about 30,000 refugees entered Yemen, prompting the U.N. World Food Program to begin providing food assistance to 43,500 people in addition to the 1.6 million native Yemenis to whom the agency already expects to provide aid in 2008. After a 400 percent jump in food prices this spring, government forces deployed to quell riots by thousands of disenfranchised youth in the al-Dalea and Lahij areas, during which about a dozen were killed. An estimated 75 percent of Yemenis suffer from food shortages brought on by the price rise in global food commodities. The doubling of wheat prices, coupled with record inflation across the board, could push the poverty rate up 6 percentage points, according to the World Bank.

Prediction: If something is not done soon, the World Bank has warned, Yemens food crisis could wipe out all the gains made in poverty reduction between 1998 and 2005.

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