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Vol. 73/No. 34      September 7, 2009

Capitalist crisis throws
1 billion into starvation
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations projects that for the first time in history more than 1 billion people worldwide will face chronic hunger this year. This unfolding social disaster highlights that capitalism—a system that operates to maximize individual profit—is inimical to providing toiling humanity with the most basic necessities of life.

Drawing on an analysis from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the FAO projects world hunger will increase by 11 percent this year. The number of malnourished has risen steadily since the mid-1990s.

The growing social crisis of world starvation, afflicting one-sixth of humanity, “is not the consequence of poor global harvests but is caused by the world economic crisis,” said a June 19 FAO press release.

In other words the 100 million more workers and farmers being pushed into starvation this year is primarily because they can’t afford to buy food in the capitalist market.

Working people in the semicolonial world are being squeezed particularly hard between high food prices and falling income.

Food prices shot up between 2006 and mid-2008, with many basic staples doubling in price. The average world food prices in real terms remain 24 percent higher than they were in 2006 and 33 percent higher than 2005, according to the report.

In semicolonial countries, prices are higher and the decline from last year’s highest levels lag far behind the price drops in the imperialist countries. For example, the price of wheat in Peru peaked at about $680 per ton in August 2008, but declined less than 15 percent by April 2009. However, U.S. wheat export prices peaked at about $470 in March 2008, then fell to under $250 per ton by December—a nearly 50 percent drop.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that direct foreign investment in “developing” countries will decline by 32 percent this year. The FAO report says, “Reduced employment will have economy-wide ripple effects,” as a result. In addition, loans for the least developed countries are exceedingly more expensive or unavailable.

Money sent to family members in these countries from individuals working abroad, known as remittances, will drop this year by 5 percent to 8 percent, according to the World Bank.

The report says the IMF projects foreign aid, which had also increased in recent years, will decline in the 71 poorest countries by about 25 percent.

The increase in hunger will hit every corner of the globe. The smallest increase this year is expected to be in Asia and the Pacific, the world’s most populous region and home to most of the world’s hungry—642 million. There the rate is projected to increase by 10.5 percent this year.

The highest prevalence of hunger is in Sub-Saharan Africa where 32 percent of the population is starving. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the only region where there had been any decline in pervasive hunger in recent years, the number of undernourished is expected to increase by 13 percent.

The percentage of hungry in the Near East and North Africa is projected to rise by 13.5 percent, the largest percentage increase in the semicolonial world.

About 1.5 percent of the world’s hungry live in the “developed” countries. However, it is in these countries where the greatest percentage increase is projected—15.4 percent.

As usual, the report outlines policy recommendations to address the social crisis of hunger. The fact that the root of the problem is systemic, rather than one of bad policy, is illustrated by the fact that the UN organization’s “work” over the years has amounted to nothing. The number of hungry and all the “targets” set by the UN World Food Summit (WFS) have run in opposite directions since its inception in 1995. The more than 1 billion people facing chronic hunger is double the WFS “target” for 2009.

The report warns that “unless concrete steps are taken” the current economic crisis “can have long-term adverse impacts, particularly on the economies of the poor countries even after the wave of the global recession has passed”—whenever that may be.  
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