It is not difficult to understand why the financial crisis has swamped our collective mind space. But lest we forget— there are other problems that the world should also be discussing.
Take the food crisis that has been shoved out of the front pages and editorial columns by the sheer magnitude of the financial mess. The World Bank has said this month that high food and fuel prices will increase the number of malnourished people around the world by 44 million, to around 960 million. World Bank president Robert Zoellick has called this a human crisis. “It is pushing poor people to the brink of survival,” he said. India is one of the countries that has been explicitly identified as having to bear a high malnutrition burden because of rising commodity prices.
True, both food and fuel prices have dropped in recent months. But they are still too high by historical standards. Two economists, Juan Delgado and Indhira Santos, say in a recent article that cereal prices are still twice as high as they were in January 2006. They are worried that the financial crisis has drawn world attention away from the food crisis. “May the crisis of the wealthy not overshadow the crisis of the poor,” they wrote.
The other big crisis that is facing humanity is climate change. Activists fear that the coming slowdown—and perhaps recession—in the world economy will automatically cut production of greenhouse gases and make the comprehensive climate deal that the world needs less likely. That would be unfortunate. Even a climate change sceptic like US President George W. Bush has seen the light—so what if attention is now diverted to the immediate financial crisis and away from the climate crisis.
“The truth is, there is a very large question mark hanging over the idea that Congress would take economy-wide action on global warming with the economy in such anaemic shape,” Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, told The New York Times (see story on Page 21).
We are not for a moment suggesting that the world’s leaders should not be focusing on the financial crisis. It is the elephant in the room. And it has the potential to do huge damage to both economic growth and government finances. The poor will suffer from both eventualities. And a climate change deal is almost impossible when the world is cowering in fear.
That said, world leaders should not allow the immediate problem to force them into a myopic denial of the food and climate problems.
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