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The Hunger Games ahead: will governments offer social protection or social jeopardy?

CornfieldEarlier this month, the United Nations Committee on Food Security met in Rome. Among the many grave warnings they issued was one concerning the effect of extreme weather on the United States' crops and grain reserves - extreme weather that, when described, was a lot like today's Hurricane Sandy.


A combination of rising food prices, extreme weather, falling grain stocks and overconsumption has led to the warnings that we will all face a global food crisis in 2013. The UK's Guardian newspaper had the most rounded report but there was slim coverage of this critical subject to be found elsewhere.

The official reports from the CFS meeting - here - include strong recommendations that governments must ensure that social protection is available for citizens to ensure an adequate supply of food and nutrition. All well and good - but social protection measures need planning now, not when we get into 2013 and find our cupboards bare or discover that the price of basic foodstuffs is so high it cannot be purchased.

Over the last four days, we have seen presidents and candidates, mayors and congressmen urge people to safety, told them to listen, told them that danger was coming. Hopefully, the result of the warnings will be that loss of life and injuries are kept to a minimum. Without the warnings - and the necessary actions being taken - it would be a very different and far more tragic story.

Here, on the doorstep of 2013, should there not be similar warnings about the oncoming problems with food pricing and availability? Will we see social protection programmes established to help those who will, without doubt, find themselves in direst need? Somehow I think not.

In New Zealand we currently have a government that has a slash-and-burn approach to any policy or provision that smacks of social justice or social protection, with disenfranchised young people unable to get the support they need and families struggling in difficult economic circumstances faced with losing what little support they have.  We are not alone in this with millions around the world dealing with austerity measures, hardship and - right this minute - food crises of their own. 

A long time ago, politics and government became about power and holding on to power. Protecting power so political parties could continue on their particular ideological way.  If, as a global society, we are going to tackle the real and common problems we all face - this year, next year and the years beyond - then political protectionism has to stop and be replaced with social protection for the people, by the people.

In 2008, I highlighted some of the problems ahead with regard to food poverty and food shortages. That's four years ago and nothing has improved. My very real concern is that it is starting to look like it's too late to take cover on this one.