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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les émeutes de la faim secouent 35 pays

Hunger riots causing disruptions in 35 countries.

Translated Thursday 17 April 2008, by Maud Gillet

Street riots are causing serious disruptions in Haiti, where a sharp increase in the price of staple foods is behind the popular unrest. The United Nations Organisation has warned that the price of staple foods will continue to rise on a worldwide scale.

Looters have reappeared in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, where youth have taken over a number of streets, which have been blocked with barricades made of tyres and rubble, making traffic of goods and transport of people very difficult.

In the past week, the price of food has shot up in Haiti, where a 110 pound sack of rice costing 35 US dollars a few days ago now costs 70 US dollars. Meanwhile, the cost of petrol increased for the third time in two months. A lot of shops were raided by protesters armed with clubs and firearms. The news that the headquarters of the radio station “Vision 2000” were being pelted with stones was broadcast by some of the station’s own presenters, who used the airwaves to appeal to the police for help.

Haiti’s president, René Préval, lets it be known he will attend meetings with food importers, with a view to persuading them to lower their prices. He has also appealed to their sense of solidarity of the more well-off in this crisis, declaring that “We are calling on civil servants whose wages are over 30,000 gourdes a month (about 790 USD) to give away 10% of their earnings to feed the poorest”.

But international food prices are unlikely to go down soon, due to the combined effect of financial speculation and of the demand for biofuels, a new market phenomenon produced by the rising needs for green energy in rich countries.

The increase in food prices is expected to continue.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has warned that the current international trend of increasingly expensive food products is expected to continue. According to IFAD, the high cost of petrol, the increasing demand for meat in Asia, the conversion of land to the production of biofuel crops, problems linked to climate change and financial speculation are all important factors of the international rise in food prices.

Violent protests against rising food prices have broken out in a number of poor countries. Like Haiti, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, to cite only a few, have experienced hunger riots. In 2007 alone, UN figures reveal an 80% increase in the price of dairy products, and a 42% increase in the price of cereals.

At the end of this week’s India-Africa Summit in New Delhi, the political leaders of India and of 14 African nations have pledged to work together to protect food security. They have called on Western countries to reconsider their priorities and change their ways, including their use of large amounts of land to grow biofuel crops instead of food.

The latter practice has been the cause of food shortages and of skyrocketing food prices in a number of developing countries. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), hunger riots triggered by the high cost of basic foods could become more frequent and widespread in years to come. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Americas. Its 8.5 million inhabitants live on less than two US dollars per day.

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