The unequal distribution of resources: The food crisis explained
One of the most striking examples of the unequal distribution of resources on the planet is the existence of chronic hunger in some parts of the world. Especially for children, hunger can be deadly or have grave consequences. As such, one of the millennium development goals is to reduce severe and moderate malnutrition by half among children that are younger than five years old.
In the past decade there has been some success in combating global hunger, but there are still 150 million children that are malnourished. Of these, more than half are from South Asia and a large part from Africa.
Malnutrition remains one of the main causes of infant mortality in the world.
The amount of hungry people on our planet has steadily declined since the end of the 1970s. However, since 2004 there has been an overall increase in hunger levels. This development was aggravated by the economic crisis and rising food prices.
In 2008 this led to a world food price crisis causing riots and unrest in many developing countries. When the crisis subsided, food prices dropped for several years. However, in January 2011, global food prices reached their highest level ever, according to the FAO.
Unequal distribution of resources
The recent price surge is another sign of the unequal distribution of resources on the planet. It is not likely that people in rich countries will go hungry during the food crisis. This is because people in developed countries spend only a relatively small amount of their income on food.
However, many families in poor countries spend up to 80 % of their income on food. If prices of certain foods double, these families will not be able to buy food anymore.
Causes for higher food prices
The reasons for the increase in food prices are complex. Those most commonly associated with it are harvest failure and climate change.
As a consequence of climate change, some regions are becoming less and less suitable for agriculture. This leads to hunger on a local level and it can have serious effects on global prices. Concerns are also raised about the fast-growing world population and the increasing demand for food. It will become increasingly difficult to feed all the worlds mouths, with the population of the earth expected to grow to 9 billion before 2050.
Growing demand for meat and dairy products
There are, however, many experts that argue that there is still enough food to feed everybody. According to these experts, there are some other specific reasons for the current prices of food and the increase in hunger.
One important reason is the growing demand for meat and dairy products that comes with the increasing wealth in some parts of the world. The production of these animal proteins requires large amounts of cereals to feed the livestock. This growing demand makes edible grains too expensive for many inhabitants of poor countries.
The current demand for bio-fuels is also consuming a growing percentage of the world’s harvested cereals. This has a profound influence on prices as well.
Financial speculation and oil price
Another important reason for the soaring food prices is financial speculation. This was the case during the food crisis of 2008 and it is expected that it will happen again. High prices are favourable for traders that hold large shares in food. Unfortunately, for some families with children that spend a large amount of their income on food, it becomes impossible to buy food.
The higher price of oil also contributes to the food price crisis. In agriculture a large amount of oil is needed for transportation and it is one of the main ingredients of artificial fertilisers. With the diminishing oil supplies and the end of the economic crisis, oil prices are only likely to increase even more.
During the food crisis of 2008, rising food prices already caused food riots in several developing countries. Many commentators also partly ascribe the 2011 turmoil in the Middle East to the high food prices. While people in these regions certainly wanted more democracy, popular discontent was also directly fuelled by the difficulties many poor people had in affording basic commodities.
Thus, while in some countries the millennium development goal of reducing malnutrition will be met in 2015, the overall global food situation is worsening. If governments and International Organisations do not take decisive action against the rising prices and the structural unequal distribution of food, malnourishment will become an even larger problem. The poorest people in developing countries, with children as the most vulnerable group, will likely bear the brunt of the burden of the food crisis. This will eventually lead to unrest and instability, which will also affect the Western world.
In order to counter these developments, better regulation on the world food market is needed. Western countries should introduce regulation to better control financial speculation.
It is also of the utmost importance that feasible sustainable energy alternatives are found. A decrease in the consummation of animal protein would also be beneficial for the world food situation.
The question is whether or not changes will be made in time to avert a food crisis, but it is certain that if we continue on this path there will be many more victims as a consequence of the unequal distribution of resources.