IMF warns rising food prices may spark more riots like Haiti

Andrew Gumbel
Monday 14 April 2008 00:00 BST

The head of the International Monetary Fund has warned of dire consequences if the price of food staples continues to rise around the world, suggesting last week's food riots in Haiti could just be the warm-up for much more widespread global unrest.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the IMF's managing director, told a meeting in Washington over the weekend that he foresaw widespread starvation and economic disruption if food prices did not come under control. "The consequences will be terrible," he said.

The IMF is now forecasting inflation rates in developing countries of an average 7.4 per cent this year, up from a January forecast of a 6.4 per cent increase. The price of rice has almost doubled over the past year, and wheat has increased by 130 per cent, including a 10 per cent jump just last Friday.

In Haiti, where food riots led to an emergency cut in the price of rice and the dismissal of the Prime Minister over the weekend, fresh violence erupted as a United Nations peacekeeper carrying food for his unit was dragged from his car in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and shot, execution-style, in the back of the neck. It was the first time a UN peacekeeper had been killed since the current mission to Haiti began four years ago, and suggested a new rage that is unlikely to abate.

President Réne Préval responded to last week's riots – triggered by a doubling in the price of a bag of rice – by shaving 15 per cent off the price increase. That was seen on the street as little more than a palliative measure that would do nothing to dampen the unpopularity of his government or of the UN mission.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 36 countries now face an outright food crisis. Big rice producers such as China, Egypt, Vietnam and India have started cutting back on their exports to keep more of their domestically grown rice at home – adding pressure to world prices.

Food riots have erupted in Niger, Senegal, Cameroon and Burkina Faso as well as Haiti, and protests have flared in Morocco, Mauritania, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Mexico and Yemen.

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