FOOD PRICES MAY PREDICT RIOTS
by Marianne English
Tue Aug 16, 2011
As England continues to clean up its cities and sort through court cases brought on by this month’s riots, one may wonder what ripens conditions for social unrest in other areas of the world.
Though it’s not clear whether this is the case in England, food prices often set the stage for riots around the globe, according to one group of scientists that submitted an analysis to a Cornell University e-publication this week.
Researchers from the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge looked at trends in food prices and recent protests and riots in North Africa and the Middle East. They found a noticeable link between the two, suggesting political disagreement isn’t all that’s necessary to spark conflict. Instead, the lack of security and access to people’s basic needs — including food — are better predictors.
Despite events in the Middle East earlier this year supporting the group’s theory, the authors’ points predate them. In fact, the same group of researchers issued a government report in December 2010, disclosing what they knew about the relationships among food prices, political unrest and political instability. Within four days, Mohammed Bouazizi began a revolution in Tunisia by lighting himself on fire.
In addition to making conditions conducive to revolt, the group says people living during food shortages are often more desperate, and thus, can be more dangerous when they finally stand up to authority.