An enormous economic crisis is gripping the world. In the Global South millions of people are being reduced to levels barely above starvation, as rising food and fuel prices help drive back years of slow improvements to health.
In Cambodia, the Irin news agency reports that farmers are abandoning tractors and other farm equipment because they can no longer afford petrol. This in turn is drastically cutting the amount of food produced.
In Djibouti, US Aid says the crisis means that half the population is now suffering acute food shortages. In Pakistan there is evidence that the children of the poor are getting smaller for their age compared to a few years ago as a result of malnutrition.
Nasreen Bibi is a domestic servant in Pakistan. She says, “I know my children are not growing well. My employer, who can feed her children good food, has a five year old son. His clothes are too big even for my nine year old. Everywhere you look, poor children are shorter and frailer.”
Although the effects of this crisis are being felt most sharply in the poorest countries, even Britain is not immune from its blows.
Though the shelves of our supermarkets are stuffed with food, millions cannot afford to buy the produce without sinking deeper into debt. And as bills for lighting and heating our homes have spiralled ever upwards, Gordon Brown has insisted that workers must accept pay cuts.
Now talk of recession, job cuts and home repossessions is beginning to spread across the US and Britain.
In this urgent situation, you might expect the G8 leaders who met this week in Japan to come up with some concrete proposals to help alleviate the pain. Instead there has been a deafening silence.
There will be no subsidised food for poorer nations. There will be no action to stop the burning of food as biofuel. And there will be no action to stop multinational firms speculating on essential goods in a way that drives their prices still higher.
Nor will there be any significant moves to reduce the output of gases that contribute towards climate change.
The leaders refuse to act because the crisis is the result of the very policies they have committed themselves to for decades.
Capitalism has distorted food production and put millions at the mercy of the global food market.
Increasingly food production is organised to make profits for a handful of multinational agribusinesses, and not to meet need.
So despite the fact that there is no actual shortage of food, people will go hungry because they cannot meet the price that is being asked for it.
World leaders are also backtracking on their previous commitments.
Three years ago the G8 leaders met in Gleneagles, Scotland. They promised to increase global aid by $50 billion a year and to increase aid to Africa by $25 billion.
They are now desperately trying to wriggle out of their promises. An initial draft of the new agreement on aid has removed any mention of that $50 billion.
Experts on climate change say that cuts to carbon emissions of at least 80 percent are required to stave off disaster. But the G8 could barely muster a “target” of cutting emissions by 50 percent by 2050.
The pledge itself is meaningless. Making a serious cut in emissions requires serious measures – investment in renewable energy sources, increased investment in public transport, and a halt to airport expansion.
The G8 announced no such measures.
However, with the world teetering on the brink of an economic slump, the G8 leaders did seek to reassure us, predicting “the long-term resilience of our economies and future global economic growth”.
There is something else that unites the millions across the world who are suffering from the food and fuel crisis, and that is resistance.
Across the world we have seen strikes waves against rising prices in Egypt and Bangladesh, riots and street protests in Indonesia, Mexico and Haiti.
Next week more than half a million local government workers will strike for two days in Britain.
Millions more will watch them, thinking that they too should be taking action.
The G8 leaders have again shown us that they will not act to stop disaster. It is only the resistance of ordinary people that can ensure that rulers don’t get away with making us pay for the crisis that they have created.
- 50%- The target for cutting emissions by 2050 – down from 80 percent cut promised three years ago
- $50bn a year in aid to Africa agreed at the Gleneagles summit has now been dropped