20 October 2007

Biofuels may cause even more starvation

By Jacqui McCarney

A strange catch for a fisherman, a human body; catching a human in your net is no longer that unusual for fishermen fishing the waters of the Mediterranean. Nor is it unusual for bodies to be washed up, shockingly bloated or half starved on tourist beaches.

Two million people try to enter the European Union illegally each year and 2,000 of them drown in the Mediterranean. Exact figures are uncertain because nobody is counting and nobody seems to care.

These are desperate people, fleeing hunger and famine, in open overcrowded fishing boats at the mercy the open seas, dehydration, sickness and starvation.

Those who survive the misery of the sea journey, often too weakened to stand are nevertheless, processed, held in detention centres and forcibly repatriated to their own countries, back to the certain starvation by countries like Italy and Spain.

Why? When the world has never been richer, when we can produce enough food to feed twice the world's population are people still dying from hunger? This situation has "outraged" Jean Ziegler the Special Rapporteur on the "right to food" at the UN.

He highlighted the problem of worsening starvation at the UN Food and Agricultural organisation (FAO) last Tuesday, October 16th, World Food Day.

The Millennium Development goals and hugely popular Make Poverty History campaign are no more than ashes, far from reducing global hunger, the problem of hunger is growing. Every year more than six million children die from hunger before their fifth birthday and that figure is set to rise over the next few years.

Few of us are under any illusions about the connection between the wealth in the Northern hemisphere and the starvation in the Southern hemisphere. Climate change is the latest addition to the already deadly mix of unfair trade agreements, liberalized trade rules and third world debt. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that by 2050, there may be 150million environmental refugees – people forced to leave lands because of increasing desertification and land degradation linked to global climate change.

Despite fine speeches, even fewer can still believe that Western governments had or have ever had any serious intention of tackling world hunger, or of even of fostering the conditions in which hunger would be reduced.

Any remnants of hope in the good intentions of western governments towards the poor of the world could be dashed forever in April 2008.

That will be when the UK carries out its part of the EU directive on Biofuels. The government will mandate 2.5 per cent to all transport fuels to be biofuels rising to 5% in 2010 and over 10% by 2020.

Biofuels are presented by European governments as being part of their solution to climate change. Yet, it is increasingly clear that they destroy forests, displace people, cause starvation and damage the climate. When our government claims to be going green, they are in fact causing huge suffering.

Leading up to this year's World Food Day, Jean Ziegler, has been highlighting the growing impact of biofuels on those most of risk of starvation. He says "It's a total disaster for those who are starving". Lester Brown from the Earth Policy Institute, has said "the stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles, and the world's 2 billion poorest people."

Already food prices are rising, peasant farmers are been pushed off their lands, forests are being cleared, water is been diverted for mass growing of crops for fuel and slave wages are paid to local people while the agro – industrial monopolies grow rich with the help of western governments.

Jean Ziegler sees the problem of the growing number of hunger refugees, increasingly linked to climate change, and emerging negative impact of biofuels on the right to food, as one than can not be solved until western governments begin to take responsibility for ending global starvation.

Therefore, he is calling for those fleeing hunger to be given refugee status. He is calling for an end to the criminalisation of migration which leads to increasing violations of the right to life and the right to food. It is only by recognising "refugees from hunger" that western governments will feel a real need to find solutions.

He is also, along with an increasing number of non-government organisations, calling for a global 5 year moratorium on the expansion of biofuels, until the potential social, environmental and human rights impacts can be fully examined.

Here is the UK consumers increasingly want the choice to consume ethically, yet after April there will be no choice about using biofuels. Those biofuels may well be causing people starve. How ethical is that?