CRS Food Experts Warn of Impending 'Cascade of Hunger'

CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES

The recent skyrocketing cost of food staples around the world is making national and international headlines.

The crisis is prompting economists, agronomists, finance ministers and heads of state to come up with immediate and long-term solutions so that more widespread price increases are averted and increasing discontent is mitigated.

"What we are seeing is unprecedented," says Catholic Relief Services food aid expert Lisa Kuennen-Asfaw. "If immediate needs are not met, and if resources and policies supporting increased agricultural production are not put in place soon, we are heading for a cascade of hunger the world over."

Prices are increasing sharply in every region of the world for some of the most basic foodstuffs traded on international commodity markets. The price of wheat has doubled in less than a year, while other staples such as corn, maize and soy are trading at well above their 1990s levels. Rice, which is the staple food for about 3 billion people worldwide, has tripled in cost in the last 18 months. In some countries, prices for milk and meat have more than doubled.

In Egypt, a 110-pound sack of wheat cost about $8 two years ago. Today, that same sack of wheat costs more than $25. As prices rise, more and more Egyptians are unable to afford their daily bread. They stand in long lines for hours to buy government-subsidized bread, missing work or school to do so.

In the West Bank, students are suspending their studies because of the increasing cost of food and transportation. Many households are depending on family members who live in other countries to send money in order to help them to survive.

In Ethiopia, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, whose urban centers take in the poorest of the poor, has seen a 20 percent increase in demand for services. As CRS' biggest partner in Ethiopia, the Missionaries of Charity tells CRS staff that the signs of the problem are visible; increasing numbers of women, children, elderly and disabled people are living on the streets.

The price of rice and other food staples has increased dramatically over the last 18 months.

In Bosnia, the price of basic foodstuffs is putting a terrible strain on the population. Especially affected are milk, bread and cooking oil, the staples that are crucial for vulnerable groups. A liter of milk, which cost 75 cents last summer, has now more than doubled to $1.62. A loaf of bread which sold for 30 cents last summer now costs an average of 61 cents.

In Burkina Faso, a middle-class family of seven now spends 75 percent of its monthly revenue on food costs alone, and still needs extra money to pay for other household costs like rent, medical expenses and utilities.

Seeking Solutions to Hunger


In Ethiopia, Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, whose urban centers take in the poorest of the poor, has seen a 20 percent increase in demand for services. As CRS' biggest partner in Ethiopia, the Missionaries of Charity tells CRS staff that the signs of the problem are visible; increasing numbers of women, children, elderly and disabled people are living on the streets.


The rising cost of food around the world is causing CRS to look for new approaches in addressing hunger needs in both rural and urban areas. As one of the largest private providers of food aid in the world, the agency is assessing how these price increases are affecting the people we serve.

Stoked by rising fuel prices, unpredictable weather in key food-producing countries, and demand from emerging economies like India and China, the surge in food prices has already sparked violent protests across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. In Haiti, an island nation already plagued by chronic hunger and where most people survive on less than $2 per day, deadly riots and street protests broke out in defiance of skyrocketing food prices. Demonstrators say the cost of food, coupled with a lethargic government, have left them hungry and politically dissatisfied.

"The anger is palpable across the globe," says Sean Callahan, CRS' executive vice president of overseas operations. "The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but it is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments."

At the heart of the food crisis is that global supply needs to catch up with demand. This situation hits countries that consume more than they produce the hardest. In response, poor countries need to significantly boost agricultural production in both near-term and longer-term timeframes.

"One solution," says Kuennen-Asfaw, "is to provide a support mechanism to small [farmers] through production safety net programs such as subsidizing seeds and fertilizers. This won't address the longer-term production problems, but will significantly help boost agricultural production and increase yields during the next growing season."

CRS food experts and program staff from around the world are very concerned about this growing food crisis, but they are hopeful that through the implementation of some of the above programs, widespread famine and food insecurity will be avoided.




Addressing the global food shortage

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

"CRS Food Experts Warn of Impending 'Cascade of Hunger'." Catholic Relief Services.

Catholic Relief Services was founded in 1943 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States to serve World War II survivors in Europe. Since then, we have expanded in size to reach more than 80 million people in more than 100 countries on five continents.

Our mission is to assist impoverished and disadvantaged people overseas, working in the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching to promote the sacredness of human life and the dignity of the human person. Although our mission is rooted in the Catholic faith, our operations serve people based solely on need, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity. Within the United States, CRS engages Catholics to live their faith in solidarity with the poor and suffering of the world.

The fundamental motivating force in all activities of CRS is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it pertains to the alleviation of human suffering, the development of people and the fostering of charity and justice. We are committed to a set of Guiding Principles and hold ourselves accountable to each other for them.

As the official international relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community, CRS is administered by a board of bishops selected by the National Council of Catholic Bishops and is staffed by men and women committed to the Catholic church's apostolate of helping those in need.

CRS maintains strict standards of efficiency, accountability and transparency. Last year, more than 94 percent of revenues we spent went directly to programs that benefit the poor overseas.

Copyright © 2008 Catholic Relief Services




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