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WORLD FOOD DAY: Eating Less, Paying More

Ali Gharib

WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2008 (IPS) - Despite wall-to-wall media coverage of the financial crisis rocking the U.S. and, increasingly, other financial systems around the world, a crisis with a larger scope is brewing with little attention.

Many people around the globe are feeling the burden of higher food and energy prices, found a new international poll of 26 countries released ahead of World Food Day Thursday.

The rising food prices, said the poll from the BBC World Service conducted by University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the polling firm Globescan, were sometimes so acute as to affect people’s eating habits, especially in developing countries.

“The financial crisis is taking up a tremendous amount of coverage in the media right now, but what is going to affect a larger number of people around the world [are the crises of rising energy and food costs],” Clay Ramsay, the research director at PIPA, told IPS. “It’s important to see all these dimensions at once and not regard the financial crisis as the be-all and end-all of our problems.”

Ramsay told IPS that the first of these crises involved energy costs, which subsequently affected food costs because of the fuel and electricity needed for production, transportation, and storage.

“The financial crisis is the newest one – it’s the icing on a very bad-tasting cake,” Ramsay said. “All of these factors are going to interact, but the one that was the underlying one for many parts of the world was the increased energy costs. That has exacerbated the food crisis.”

With energy and food costs soaring of late, many perceive the increases as having a large effect on them, even leading some to cut down the amount of food they eat.

“Majorities in each of the 26 countries included in the poll, except China, say they have been negatively affected by rising food and energy prices ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’,” said the BBC report from the poll. “Remarkably, close to 100 percent of citizens in several developing countries have been affected ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’ by rising food prices…”

Ninety-eight percent of respondents in Egypt and the Philippines responded this way, as did 96 percent of Kenyans and Indonesians, and 95 percent of Nigerians.

In several of these developing nations, majorities said that food prices have affected what they eat. This was the case with 71 percent of respondents in Panama, 67 percent in Egypt, 64 percent in Kenya, 63 percent in the Philippines, and 57 percent in Mexico.

Majorities of four of the 26 countries surveyed said how much they were eating has changed because of increasing food costs. Between half and two-thirds of people in Panama, the Philippines, Kenya and Nigeria – all developing nations – said they were eating less.

But developing countries aren’t the only ones burdened by escalating living costs.

While most people in developed nations say that they have neither changed what or how much they eat, some developed nations are also feeling the crunch of energy and food costs.

In France, Italy, Russia and Poland, the poll found that more than 80 percent of respondents think that food costs had negatively affected them “a great deal” or “a fair amount”.

In Italy and Poland, about nine in 10 respondents to the poll answered the same way with regards to rising energy costs.

In 23 of the countries surveyed, majorities think their governments ought to be doing more to make sure that people can afford to eat. China was the lone exception, with nearly two-thirds of respondents approving of their government’s handling of the food crisis, while pluralities in the United Arab Emirates and India (47 and 49 percent, respectively) were dissatisfied with their governments.

“While governments around the world are now preoccupied with the financial crisis, it is clear that many of their citizens feel they aren’t doing enough to relieve the burden of high food prices, which is falling on those who can least afford it,” said Globescan chairman Doug Miller in a release announcing the poll results.

More than three-quarters of respondents in nine surveyed countries were dissatisfied with their government’s performance.

A staggering 88 percent of Egyptians felt this way, as well as 86 percent of those in the Philippines, 85 percent of Lebanese, 82 percent of Indonesians and Turkish respondents, and three-quarters of Nigerians.

In developed nations, about eight in 10 of respondents in South Korea, France and Russia thought their governments aren’t doing enough.

Those results indicated that people agree in large numbers that keeping citizens fed is indeed a basic right which government has an obligation to ensure.

The right to food, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was ratified by the U.N. General Assembly 60 years ago, is also a top priority of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), adopted by nearly all U.N. members in 2000 with a 2015 target for accomplishing the initiative’s bold aims.

The MDGs’ first goal is plainly stated as a desire to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger”.

A poll released on Monday by PIPA on their website also confirmed that many in the U.S. also agree that having enough to eat, as well as other concerns such as healthcare and education needs, are important basic rights that government should be tackling.

“A new poll shows broad consensus among Americans that the government is responsible for ensuring that its citizens can meet their basic healthcare, food, and education needs,” said the poll results.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that the government is doing a “poor job” of ensuring everyone access to health care.

“These findings show that the American public largely concurs with the principles presented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said the release of the poll results on “It states that ‘everyone has the right to…food, medical care… [and] education.’ Signatories to the declaration commit ‘by progressive measures, national and international, to secure’ these rights.”

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