The growing world food crisis looks like a montage in a disaster movie--crowd scenes of hungry rioters in Haiti, Egypt and Africa's Ivory Coast; close-ups of emaciated mothers holding out starving children to anyone who will feed them; well-fed gray men in paneled rooms clucking impotently.
Before the World Bank meeting last weekend, president Robert Zoellick talked about the growing emergency caused by doubling wheat and rice prices in the past year. "While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs and it's getting more and more difficult everyday,” he said.
But at the meeting, nothing was done. An official of the International Monetary Fund observed that "the best sort of response is to allow market forces to operate, to allow prices to rise so that there can be a supply response."
To his credit, President Bush acted more forcefully by releasing $200 million in emergency food aid and promising to do more. But in Congress, a farm bill that could alleviate hunger in the US with food stamps and nutrition programs is tied up by political wrangling as members stuff it with provisions to help breeders of race horses and farmers in law suits over the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Meanwhile, the disaster movie keeps unreeling, and the only way for onlookers to change the script is by supporting organizations like Oxfam, Bread for the World and the UN's World Food Programme--and letting members of Congress know that, if they don't act responsibly, they may have to look elsewhere for their own bread and butter after November.