Food Shortages Herald "New Era Of Hunger"

A border guard sells rice at a government subsidized outlet at Nawabganj in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, April 11, 2008. The price of food has skyrocketed around the world, leading to riots in some countries and fears of starvation in others, and Bangladesh, a desperately poor and overpopulated nation, is one of the most vulnerable, experts say. (AP Photo/Pavel Rahman) AP Photo/Pavel Rahman

A third day of riots in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, had by Friday paralyzed the city with looting and violence.

The toll includes a U.N. soldier who has been shot and killed in the capital while delivering food to his unit.

U.N. Mission spokeswoman Sophie Boutaud de la Combe said the soldier was shot Saturday afternoon and that he was a member of a 1,000-strong unit that deals with riots.

She said U.N. troops did not exchange fire, but had no further details.

The demonstrations began earlier in the week, in protest against rising food prices, and turned into riots.

The looting has made access to food even more difficult, doing little to ease widespread hunger among Haitians.

Port-au-Prince hospitals were filled with people injured in the riots, being treated by volunteers from the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).

Wagner Pierre, who works for Medecins Sans Frontieres, said many of the wounds they were seeing were a result of bullets.

"In the last 4 days we have received 160 wounded, 40 of which were from gun bullet wounds," said Wagner.

Many of the injured were bystanders caught in crossfire, like David Saint Felix, who was wounded in the leg during the protests.

"I was passing through the Haitian marine base looking for my brother who was in the protests, when I was hit with a bullet in my leg," said Saint Felix.

The fighting across the capital was punctuated with calls for the Haitian president's resignation.

This afternoon, a Haitian senator said that parliament has voted to dismiss Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis.

President Rene Preval announced a drop in the price of rice Saturday in a bid to defuse anger over rising food prices.

After meeting with food importers in the national palace, Preval said the price of a 50-pound bag of rice will drop from US$51 to US$43 - a reduction of 15.7 percent.

The Haitian president said the government will use international aid money to subsidize the price of rice and that the private sector has agreed to knock US$3 off the price of each bag. Preval did not say when the price reduction would go into effect.

Preval also said he would ask Venezuela for help, especially about providing fertilizer for struggling farmers.

The announcements come in the wake of looting and clashes between hundreds of protesters and U.N. peacekeepers earlier this week. Protesters blame the government for failing to create jobs and control soaring food prices and some demonstrators called for Preval's resignation. The violence left at least five people dead.

On Saturday, U.N. military commander Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz told The Associated Press that calm was returning across the country, with some transportation resuming and people going back to work.

The U.N. commander said that several social, economic and political changes are still needed in Haiti to maintain the present calm and address the increased cost of living. Cruz did not provide specifics.

"It is important for the people to have a peaceful life in Haiti," Santos Cruz said.

The U.S.-backed president has pledged to build up Haitian agriculture and make the country more self-sufficient.

But food prices have risen 40 percent globally since mid-2007.

Haiti, the poorest country in the northern hemisphere, has been hit especially hard because it imports nearly all of its food, and most people live on less than two U.S. dollars a day.

Haiti's food problems are, sadly, not isolated to the Caribbean nation.

A Growing Worldwide Problem

There have been riots in Bangladesh, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal. Rising prices have hit poor countries like Peru (and even developed countries like Italy and the United States).

A confluence of problems are driving the problem. They include soaring petroleum prices, which increase the cost of fertilizers, transport and food processing; rising demand for meat and dairy in China and India, resulting in increased costs for grain, used for cattle feed; and the ever-rising demand for raw materials to make biofuels.

As of December, 37 countries faced food crises, and 20 had imposed some sort of food-price controls. The U.N.'s World Food Program says it's facing a $500 million shortfall in funding this year to feed 89 million needy people.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that prices could continue to rise for several years.

"This is not a this-year phenomenon," Zoellick said.

The World Food Program blames soaring food prices on a convergence of rising energy costs, natural disasters linked to climate change, and competition for grain used to make bio-fuels like ethanol.

Program spokesperson Benita Luescher told CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, "What we're seeing is a perfect storm."

On Friday, the Group of 24 Developing Countries urged advanced nations to step up financial aid to help them deal with the severe impact of higher food and energy prices and the turmoil in global financial markets.

The G-24 said that coordinated international action is needed to prevent the emergence of a larger crisis, and agreed the International Monetary Fund has an important role in responding to the current crisis. They also urged the IMF's sister institution, the World Bank, to increase advice and financial support.

Jean-Claude Masangu-Mulongo, chairman of the G-24 and governor of Congo's central bank, said the world was facing "an unprecedented financial crisis that began ... in the heart of the system, the United States, and is spreading."

He said a coordinated and collective international response led by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is needed.

The G-24 communique was unusual in the amount of advice it offered advanced countries. Usually the communiques speak of how the G-24 will deal with recommendations it receives from the rich countries and the international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. Ministers in several developing countries have noted smugly in recent months that the current crisis did not originate in one of their countries, as happened in the late 1990s, but in the United States, which enjoys the world's largest economy.

The G-24 welcomed a proposal made last month by the World Bank's Zoellick for a "New Deal for a Global Food Policy" to combat hunger and malnutrition through a combination of emergency aid and long-term efforts to boost agricultural productivity.

  • CBSNews

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