Meeting with world economic ministers in Washington, DC, this past weekend, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said that IMF and World Bank officials “now need to devote 100 percent of our time
” to ensuring political and democratic stability in the countries hit hardest by the global spike in food prices. He added that development gains made in the last five or ten years are in danger of being “totally destroyed
.” Recent unrest in a number of developing countries
—including Haiti, where the president was ousted last week, partially due to anger over food prices—underlines the urgency of this crisis.
Asian countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, which have spent the last decade working to strengthen their economies, may see their significant gains erased under this new economic strain. And they may be among the relatively lucky countries, with government ministries in place to provide subsidies and shield their populations from the worst effects of sky-high prices. In contrast, many sub-Saharan African countries have no safety net beyond reliance on international organizations like the World Food Program.
In many developing countries, where families typically spend between half and three-quarters of their total budget on food, World Bank President Robert Zoellick says that there “is no margin for survival.” Citizens in developing nations may abide corrupt governments while they are at least marginally able to feed their families, but when even that becomes impossible, “normally passive citizens can very quickly become militants with nothing to lose,” reports Time magazine. “What Haiti’s riots show,” argued an op-ed in the Jamaica Gleaner, “is that there cannot be a secure democracy without food security.”