Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On crisis management

JimBobby is right to point out that the global food crisis deserves more attention than it's getting. So let's note a couple of facets of the story which seem to have passed largely without comment so far.

First of all, from the Globe and Mail story pointed out by JimBobby, it's worth pointing out just what it took for the U.N. to take note of the need for action:
The United Nations plans to establish a task force to tackle the global food crisis to avert "social unrest on an unprecedented scale," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday.

Mr. Ban, who will lead the task force, said its first priority will be to meet the $755-million (U.S.) shortfall in funding for the World Food Program.

"Without full funding of these emergency requirements, we risk again the spectre of widespread hunger, malnutrition and social unrest on an unprecedented scale," he told reporters in the Swiss capital, Bern, where the UN agency chiefs have been meeting.
Obviously the anticipated increase in starvation may make the stakes higher than usual. But as JimBobby notes, the pre-crisis situation already involved 24,000 deaths every day due to starvation. And given that that number apparently wasn't seen as deserving of special attention, it seems that the possibility of "social unrest" is serving as a greater motivator than any agreement that hunger should be tackled in general.

Even once it's acknowledged that there's some need for action, of course, it still falls to individual countries to determine - if at all - they plan to improve matters. And the indications from Canada don't look promising at this point, as only the NDP appears willing to discuss whether proposed regulations on ethanol might make matters worse:
Concerned about the widening food shortage, the NDP has introduced an amendment seeking to have Bill C-33 sent back to committee where issues such as food scarcity, and whether or not ethanol is helping the environment, can be considered before the law is passed.

"We need to take a breath here and think about this," said Nathan Cullen, NDP environment critic. "Politicians need a little humility, and sometimes they need to say that it's time to think before we act, especially in light of recent events."
Which would seem to be an eminently sensible suggestion as to one means not to make the problems worse - particularly if coupled with discussion about contributions to the World Food Program and other ways to help.

But even Lib David McGuinty responded by trying to shout down any discussion of whether the impact of biofuels on food supplies should be considered. And given the Cons' connections to the industry group which pushed for an ethanol plan based on foods rather than other inputs, there's little prospect that Canada's possible role in contributing to the diversion of food will receive the attention it deserves.

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