My brother-in-law brought to my attention this article on nytimes.com about the global food crisis. Food prices have risen dramatically in the past few months and people in impoverished countries around the world are not getting enough to eat. First of all, reading about this makes me incredibly sad. How can we, as a single global humanity, be allowing so many people around the world to not have one of their most basic human needs be met? Here I am, a comfortable middle-class American, thinking about how my cereal is running low and I better go to the store soon, while people in other countries are starving. Something is not right here. Secondly, it makes me angry at my government and country. The United States consumes a huge amount of resources proportional to the population, produces an extraordinary amount of material items and thus material waste, and the government is not taking global warming seriously. Meanwhile, people around the world are starving as a global food shortage becomes a reality – a shortage that is in fact due in part to global climate changes; I found a good article about that here.
It does not surprise me one bit that there are outbreaks of rioting in the affected countries. People who are starving and desperate are going to do whatever it takes to obtain food. They are justifiably angry at their governments. And yet some of the governments do not seem to be reacting in a productive manner (quoted from the nytimes article):
Last month in Senegal, one of Africa’s oldest and most stable democracies, police in riot gear beat and used tear gas against people protesting high food prices and later raided a television station that broadcast images of the event. Many Senegalese have expressed anger at President Abdoulaye Wade for spending lavishly on roads and five-star hotels for an Islamic summit meeting last month while many people are unable to afford rice or fish.
“If all the people rise, then the government will resolve this,” said Raisa Fikry, 50, whose husband receives a pension equal to about $83 a month, as she shopped for vegetables. “But everyone has to rise together. People get scared. But we will all have to rise together.” It is the kind of talk that has prompted the [Egyptian] government to treat its economic woes as a security threat, dispatching riot forces with a strict warning that anyone who takes to the streets will be dealt with harshly.
Tear gas? A security threat? How sad. Using violence against the rioters is not going to help anything. It is only going to incite more anger, as the people sense that their government is resisting them rather than trying to work with them to solve the crisis. I am far from an expert on how governments can in fact go about addressing this crisis, but I’m pretty sure using violence against the people is not the solution. Niger seems to have the right idea, as activist Moustapha Kadi describes: “So when prices went up this year the government acted quickly to remove tariffs on rice, which everyone eats. That quick action has kept people from taking to the streets.”
There is certainly no easy solution to this crisis. But perhaps if we all start from a place of compassion for our fellow humans, we will be able to work together towards a productive and sustainable solution.