At least five Haitians have died in the past week as food riots spread throughout the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. UN peacekeepers fired rubber bullets to keep hungry demonstrators — some comparing the burning in their empty bellies to bleach or battery acid — from storming the presidential palace Tuesday. Poor farming methods force Haiti to import 75 percent of its food, making it especially vulnerable to price hikes related to soaring fuel costs. Most Haitians live on less than $2 a day while the price of rice has doubled, from $35 to $70 for a 120-pound sack. Gasoline has seen its third price increase in less than two months. The World Food Program says rising grain prices have left it $500-million short of what it needs to feed the hungry.
As many as 100 people in this west-central African nation — the world's fourth largest cocoa producer — were killed in February in riots started by taxi drivers angry at high food and fuel costs and at President Raul Biya's bid to extend his 25-year rule. The government later reduced gas prices, but discontent is rampant throughout Africa over the high cost of living. Experts say the continent's only way out is greater self-sufficiency in food and energy. Sierra Leone, for one, plans to ban imported rice starting next year.
The increasingly unpopular government of President Hosni Mubarak rushed to grant concessions to workers last week after two days of riots over high food prices and low wages in the industrial city of Mahalla al-Kobra, 60 miles north of Cairo. A 15-year-old boy and a 45-year-old man died in clashes with police, the worst unrest in Egypt since 1977 rioting over high bread costs. In Cairo bread is so scarce it is sold from behind a barricaded wall. Food riots also broke out recently in the Arab nations of Jordan and Yemen.
Though spared food riots thus far, the Philippines is among the Asian nations that will be the worst hit if rice prices continue to soar. Once self-sufficient in rice, the Philippines has lost almost half its land to urbanization and is now the world's largest rice importer. Troops have been forced to guard stockpiles, rice hoarders have been threatened with life imprisonment and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made an urgent appeal to Vietnam to guarantee rice supplies. But major rice producers like Vietnam, India and China are holding back supplies to feed their own people. Asian food shortages are also aggravated by the rapid growth of the Chinese and Indian middle classes and their demand for animal protein, which requires large amounts of grain.
Sources: Associated Press, Agence France Presse, New York Times, BBC