Deadly rioting broke out this week across Haiti and Egypt, where rampaging inflation has driven up food prices. The United Nations estimates that the cost of food in those countries has nearly doubled in the last two years.
In Egypt, bread is so scarce that in some places it is sold behind a barricaded wall. In Haiti, the 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers have been ordered not to fire on civilians while widespread looting and violence continues.
The Group of Seven is meeting in Washington this weekend to address instability in the global economy, but many analysts seem skeptical about how effective the organization will be at steadying inflation.
Bettina Luescher, the chief North American spokeswoman for the U.N. World Food Program, tells Scott Simon that the factors contributing to the increasing food prices have created "a perfect storm." She says those factors include a rise in oil and energy prices and an economic boom in developing countries like India and China that is increasing demand, as well as climate changes causing droughts and floods.
In addition, Luescher says, some farmers are shifting their crops from food to those used for alternative fuels, like corn used for ethanol, because of rising demand.
"We don't want to, you know, categorize the biofuels as either good or bad, but what we are really seeing is it's part of the market speculation that is going on," she says. "Sometimes farmers are betting that that will be a much better investment, and some of the [crops that] could have been used for foods and are now being used for fuel."
The World Food Program needs money to implement aid operations on the ground, Luescher says, and the organization is also looking at long-term safety nets, such as school feeding programs.
"That is one of the long-term things where we think that from the richer countries much more money should be spent on programs like that, so that we can have a long-term impact," she says.