The Inauguration of the "First black" President of the United States has a lot of people feeling good about themselves, and rightly so. However, just because Barack Obama had the guts to run for President and the ability to win, does not mean that the problems of the world have disappeared. Quite the contrary.
The election has knocked a lot of crises from the headlines, not the least of which is the worldwide food crisis. In the United States, record layoffs, foreclosure and evictions are sending a lot of families who used to be donors to food pantries, to the soup kitchens and food pantries of the nation.
While the price of fuel, gasoline in particular, has dropped, rising food prices and unemployment have combined to put more people at risk for going hungry this year. From the 'industrialized countries' to the so-called Third World, food security, that is, knowing where your next meal is coming from, has become very unsure for people around the world.
That is particularly true for many places on the African continent, according to the BBC. Even worse, from a food security perspective is the urbanization of the world, as people move from the farms where they grow their own food, to the cities where they are dependent on jobs and food availability to put food on the table.
The head of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) in Kenya, Mwangi Waituru, said that food prices continue to rise, making it harder for people to feed their families.
"The current consumer society is rapidly eroding the traditional security nets system, leaving the poor more and more vulnerable," he said. (BBC 1-25-08)
With an economic crisis hammering the industrialized nations of the world, there is less money available to invest in the Third World, and less money available for industrialized countries and their business sectors to purchase raw materials and exports from "Third World" countries. Hence, in Kenya, for instance, the world economic slow down means the market for Kenyan copper has dropped, taking a huge part of Kenyan export capital with it.
In the United States, people aren't buying cars, houses, and big-ticket items. The credit crisis which shut off short-term capital to businesses during the critical Holiday shopping season, combined with the domino effect of job loss-credit crunch-consumer fear has had a massive effect on the nation's economy. It has forced auto companies to furlough employees, and is driving many electronic stores and clothing stores into bankruptcy and liquidation.
While the United States has more resources, safety net programs such as unemployment insurance, food stamps, food banks and soup kitchens, those resources are sorely strained. The below-mentioned statistics from a leading food activist agency reflect food insecurity as of 2007. The catastrophic crisis, which has flooded the nation with homelessness, unemployment and foreclosure in late 2008, has increased the numbers of at risk families immeasurably.
The numbers aren't encouraging. As of 2007:
- 36.2 million people lived in households considered to be food insecure.
- Of these 36.2 million, 23.8 million are adults (10.6 percent of all adults) and 12.4 million are children (16.9 percent of all children).
- The number of people in the worst-off households increased to 11.9 from 10.8 in 2005. This increase in the number of people in the worst-off category is consistent with other studies and the Census Bureau poverty data, which show worsening conditions for the poorest Americans.
- Black (22.2 percent) and Hispanic (20.1 percent) households experienced food insecurity at far higher rates than the national average.
- The ten states with the highest food insecurity rates in 2007 were Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Maine, South Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. (Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) )
According to FRAC, using the latest numbers from 2008, the situation is dire in many states.
- In nearly one-half of the states (22 states plus the District of Columbia), at least one in ten residents was receiving SNAP/Food Stamp benefits. Those states are: Mississippi; District of Columbia; Missouri; Louisiana; West Virginia; Kentucky; Tennessee; South Carolina; Maine; Arkansas; Oregon; Alabama; New Mexico; Michigan; Oklahoma; Georgia; Texas; North Carolina; Arizona; New York; Illinois; Indiana; and Ohio.
- In 14 of those states, more than one in eight residents was receiving SNAP/Food Stamps. Those states are: Mississippi; District of Columbia; Missouri; Louisiana; West Virginia; Kentucky; Tennessee; South Carolina; Maine; Arkansas; Oregon; Alabama; New Mexico; and Michigan. (Ibid)
In almost half of the nation, 10 percent of the population is on food stamps, while 14 states are in even more critical need, with 12 percent of their population participating in the Food Stamp Program. Experts say those numbers will increase as the nation's economy worsens.
The number of people receiving SNAP/Food Stamps nationally has grown from 26.3 million in April 2007 to 29.5 million in August 2008. Experts predict this number will rise by millions more in the months ahead. (Ibid)
What makes the situation more critical is the government's downsizing and retrenching on many social welfare programs, including Food Stamps. Not to mention the fact that food prices around the world are increasing, so food benefit recipients have less spending power; their food stamps don't buy as much as they once did.
SNAP/Food Stamp benefits are falling further and further behind inflation, and economists from all across the political spectrum say that, dollar-for-dollar, increased SNAP/Food Stamp benefits are the best stimulus. (Ibid)
Viewing the problem from a global perspective, the United Nations has created a task force to monitor the global food crisis.