2011 hasn’t got off to an impressive start, has it. There are floods (Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka), famine (Kenya, parts of India), and indeed pestilence (Haiti, a few African countries). There have also been large quantities of birds falling out of the sky, and dead fishes floating side by side on the surface of lakes and rivers. All very Biblical, and very discouraging. And no, the Petchary does not believe in “the end of days.”
Let’s look at the famine (food) part of it, to start with. We can move on to the floods, pestilence and showers of dead birds in another post, perhaps. Today, a president, who has ruled his country (Tunisia) for as long as our adult son has been on this earth, fled from the power he so tenaciously clung to, leaving behind burnt barricades, bleeding and masked protesters and streets filled with the acrid scent of anger and pain.
How did the Tunisia crisis start? Well, there is a food connection. An unemployed young man was selling vegetables without a permit, and set fire to himself in protest. The first demonstrators shouted the slogan, “Bread, water, Ben Ali out.”
Of course, the protests took a political turn. And, as so often is the case, the high price of food was closely linked to dissatisfaction – essentially, anger – with the government in charge. Reuters reports the chant of Tunis protesters, ”We don’t want bread or anything else, we just want him to leave…After that we will eat whatever we have to.”
And, naturally, the gloomy specter of unemployment and lack of opportunity – social, educational and economic – shuffles around in the background, in shabby doorways. The dark shadow taps the young, eager-faced students on the shoulder, reminding them, “I’m here for you. Whenever you’re ready, here I am.”
Now food riots are contagious. The price of food (and perhaps, oil) can sometimes have the same effect as tossing a can of gasoline on an already smoldering bonfire. There have been riots in Tunisia’s close neighbor, Algeria, and now down into Jordan. Last September, there were food riots in Mozambique, where huge price increases were sparked by catastrophic fires in the great wheat fields of Russia during a tremendous heatwave.
Many developing countries, including little Jamaica, are highly dependent on imported wheat. We may have to change, and start producing more cassava flour, yam flour, breadfruit flour. Why not? The Petchary watched a TV report this week about how Indian cuisine is suffering because of the high price of onions. Well, guess what… find a substitute. We will all have to adapt, and we’d better start now. In Jamaica, we can stop moaning about the price of salt fish, too. It’s an anachronism, a colonial hangover that is just too expensive. Find something else.
Yes, we use words like “catastrophic,” “crisis” and “chaos” with increasing frequency, don’t we. Crisis is really sadly over-worked, and we try to find other words, like… well, there’s no word like crisis. It sums it all up.
Meanwhile, in Jamaica, there is the scare of food poisoning – which may seem trivial compared to the riots, but is also sometimes rooted in poverty and deprivation. After the death of an Argentine tourist at a Christmas wedding celebration, apparently from saltpeter liberally used instead of salt, a rash of ackee poisoning has broken out. Warnings are going out (as if we didn’t know) that ackees must be fully and naturally opened before they are consumed. But people are desperate, picking them when they are not open and therefore poisonous, and selling them. And again, desperate thieves are busy stealing sweet peppers and other crops from the fields of the long-suffering, industrious farmers, and selling the food with the residue of more poison – freshly sprayed chemicals – still on them.
Food and want, going hand in hand.
The Maputo riots last September were a direct result of climate change. Fire caused by high temperatures is a destroyer of crops. Floods caused by an over-enthusiastic La Nina in Australia and Brazil (yes, both the same cause) also destroy crops. So do the numerous hurricanes and storms that afflict the planet daily. Let’s bear this in mind, too.
Adaptation is the name of the game. Which means: get used to change; roll with the punches; make changes in our lifestyle; leave the cultural hangups behind; become self-reliant; think outside the box; prepare for the worst, even if we don’t know what that is.
A U.S. professor who visited Jamaica last year, an Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Fellow named Gerry Galloway, made a simple statement: ”The only thing we know for certain about climate change is that it is uncertain. The future is uncertain.”
Let’s get used to it, people.
- Sri Lanka floods hamper food distribution; 27 dead (ctv.ca)
- Revolution in Tunisia: photo gallery (boingboing.net)
- First Goes Tunisia, Next Goes… (businessinsider.com)
- Mozambique food riots: The true face of global warming