High food prices are one of the main drivers of the protests and unrest in Egypt. Look at the hunger and poverty in that country. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) describes Egypt as “a low-income, food-deficit country, with 19.6 percent of the population—almost 14.2 million people—living below the lower poverty line, on less than US $1/day.”
A recent study from UNICEF showed that “[s]ome 1.5 million children under the age of 5 suffer from health and food deprivations.”
Getting basic foods is a daily challenge for many Egyptians. When prices spike, it crushes families already in poverty. High food prices also push many other families over the edge.
For Egypt, there was a warning of things to come. A UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report in September said the cost of a subsidized bread safety net program “is expected to increase significantly…The sudden rise in international wheat prices occurred against a background of increasing food prices, notably of rice and meat. Rice prices increased by 14 percent in July, leading to an overall increase of 31 percent since May 2010.”
This food security tragedy is not something entirely new. When the “silent tsunami” of high food prices struck in 2008, Egypt was one of the countries that suffered.
Josette Sheeran, the director of the World Food Programme, said during the 2008 world crisis,”a hungry man is an angry man. The reports and images of urban food riots are stark reminders that food insecurity threatens not only the hungry but peace and stability itself.” This is a warning that should be heeded now.
How the United States and other countries approach foreign policy will change in the wake of the uprising in Egypt. No longer can hunger and poverty be relegated to the lower levels of government. It now must be a top priority, especially with high food prices worldwide. Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, and numerous other countries are also breaking under the strain of hunger. This can no longer be ignored.