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We get tunnel vision on superdelegates and stump speeches and credentials committees, all of which have their own level of importance.  When I see a headline that millions are in danger of starvation I stop thinking about all that and pay attention.

Meteoric food and fuel prices, a slumping dollar, the demand for biofuels and a string of poor harvests have combined to abruptly multiply WFP's (the UN's World Food Program) operating costs, even as needs increase. In other words, if the number of needy people stayed constant, it would take much more money to feed them. But the number of people needing help is surging dramatically. It is what WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran calls "a perfect storm" hitting the world's hungry.

The agency last month issued an emergency appeal for money to cover a shortfall tallied at more than half a billion dollars and growing. It said it might have to reduce food rations or cut people off altogether.

The most vulnerable are people like those in Sudan, whom Joannes is struggling to feed and who rely heavily, perhaps exclusively, on the aid. But at least as alarming, WFP officials say, is the emerging community of newly needy.

There are weather-related reasons: flooding in Australia and Indonesia which lowered rice harvests, and a loss of arable land generally from a warming planet.  There are problems of increasing demand as the population increases.  There are of course problems with rising fuel prices, which impact food production and distribution.  Increases in demand for biofuels raise prices for staples like corn, as well.  And there are war zones like Afghanistan, where Hamid Karzai has asked the WFP to help feed 7.5 million people, up from 5 million, a consequences of wheat prices rising 2/3 in the last year.  Add this all up and you have 40 nations at risk of serious hunger out of the 121 that the WFP monitors.

The ability of individuals to feed themselves simply affects everything else.  You cannot improve health care, establish a working education system, or increase economic output without food security.  This is a far more urgent problem than the American financial crisis, although the plunging dollar contributes to it. And we can apportion blame but in the immediate future it's a waste of time.

The Financial Times has more.

Governments across the developing world are scrambling to boost farm imports and restrict exports in an attempt to forestall rising food prices and social unrest [...]

Saudi Arabia cut import taxes across a range of food products on Tuesday, slashing its wheat tariff from 25 per cent to zero and reducing tariffs on poultry, dairy produce and vegetable oils.

On Monday, India scrapped tariffs on edible oil and maize and banned exports of all rice except the high-value basmati variety, while Vietnam, the world’s third biggest rice exporter, said it would cut rice exports by 11 per cent this year.

The moves mark a rapid shift away from protecting farmers, who are generally the beneficiaries of food import tariffs, towards cushioning consumers from food shortages and rising prices.

The social unrest potential is great.  We have already seen "tortilla riots" in Mexico and "pasta riots" in Italy.  Restricting exports is going to decimate countries in the developing world as the richer nations try to cushion the blow in their own countries.  Food stocks are as low as at any time in recent memory.  

This goes well beyond any political issue.  Over the past week we've all received urgent calls for money from candidates for state and federal office.  Poor people worldwide don't have a flashy email they can send you.  Yet they need your support more than ever.

WFP's Fill the Cup program has for small amounts that can feed the hungry for a week or more.  That's probably the best way to get resources into the hands of those who need them.

Global Giving has programs that feed children in Niger and India, for example.

World Hunger Year tackles community-based solutions to hunger and poverty.

CARE has a World Hunger Campaign.

Do the research, see which organization fits with your comfort level, and give.  Millions of people are at risk and our financial mess has at least a little to do with it.  The other thing you can do is DEMAND that your Congresscritter raise US donations to the World Food Program.  Global poverty is an economic and national security issue.  It's also, as John Edwards called it, the moral test of our generation.


Originally posted to dday on Wed Apr 02, 2008 at 12:46 PM PDT.

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