Hunger, the source of rebellions
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
From Lebanon to Chile, to Venezuela, there have been numerous food riots this year. One often only perceives images of violent demonstrations, wounded and dead people as well as broken shop windows. But where lies the root of this rage and these protests? What is the connection between the pandemic and those events? Are we on the brink of a hunger pandemic?
Let's start with a short recall of what has been happening recently. Protests occurred in Venezuela, on the 22nd and 23rd April 2020, in a few cities located in the states of Monagas, Portuguesa and Bolivar. Smaller supermarkets and basic necessities stores were being looted, and people in medium-sized towns were demanding the right to adequate food.
Those protests took place shortly after the beginning of a nationwide lockdown. At that time, the country was already in the midst of a major economic and social crisis, which, among other things, had a negative impact on its health system. The resulting hyperinflation has made basic necessities inaccessible to the people of Venezuela.
The same thing happened in Chile: the working-class neighbourhoods of Santiago suffer more from hunger than from COVID. The protesters demanded immediate food and financial assistance, since shortly after the start of lockdown2. The poorest were the first to be harmed by this injustice. An inhabitant of the suburb of El Bosque told AFP (Agence France Presse) on the 18th of May: "It's not quarantine, it is help, it is food, that is what people are asking for right now.“3 The people are also taking to the streets in Lebanon, which is also experiencing a political, social, economic and now a health crisis. Once more, the people are hungry; once more, they articulate their anger. Between April and June 2020, protest marches were organised to fight against this issue and for the future of the country. We are now in August, right before the tragic explosion at the port of Beirut, which occurred on the 4th of the same month.4
What can we learn from these events? Firstly, they all took place in countries that had already been weakened by crises other than that of COVID-19, following the lockdown; secondly, these acts were all repressed by the military forces; thirdly, the most precarious populations were the first to be affected. As the title of an article in the RTS last May stated, “The coronavirus pandemic has not wiped out mass protests.“5 However, it would be wrong to consider that this problem is specific to the countries in the global South. Food insecurity has also affected many metropolises in the North, such as New York6 and Paris7, even though no protests happened there.
This issue, accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis, was reintroduced into world news by an alarmist statement made by David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, last December. At a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, he warned: "As a result of the many wars, climate change, the widespread use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and a global pandemic that is exacerbating all this exponentially, 270 million people are heading towards starvation". In his speech on the 9th of October, at the award ceremony of the Nobel Peace Prize to the food aid programme, he had already stated that "failing to meet the needs [of the most vulnerable populations] will lead to a hunger pandemic that will overshadow the impact of Covid-19“8.
The NGO Action Against Hunger, active in the field of food insecurity since 1979, calls for a strong response from the international community, arguing that "more people can die from the indirect consequences of an epidemic than from the disease itself". The impact of the pandemic could raise the number of undernourished people to one billion by 20219. We fear a new global food crisis of the same magnitude as the one in 2008, but do we not already see the beginnings of it? Strangely forward-looking, the March 2013 article in The Guardian, Why food riots are likely to become the new normal10, now resonates in a new way.
Written by: Lucie Geisser
Translated by: Melanie Arnold
Three elements for Instagram:
Main idea: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated social and political crises in many countries, adding to food insecurity and leaving large numbers of people vulnerable.
A significant number: According to David Beasley, director of the World Food Programme, "270 million people are facing famine", a figure reinforced by the global pandemic.
A catchphrase: "More people can die from the indirect consequences of an epidemic than from the disease itself.“
Ahmed, N. M. (2013, 6 mars). Why food riots are likely to become the new normal. The Guardian.
Action contre la Faim. (2020). Impact de la Covid-19 sur la faim : quand une pandémie en cache une autre. actioncontrelafaim.org
Dolbois, M. (2020, 24 avril). Coronavirus. « Misère extrême », « émeutes de la faim »… La précarité se renforce en Seine-Saint-Denis. Actu.
France Info. (2020, 10 décembre). Le Programme alimentaire mondial de l’ONU craint une « pandémie de la faim » plus grave que le Covid-19. francetvinfo.fr
France 24 et AFP. (2020, 19 mai). Au Chili, des émeutes de la faim explosent dans la banlieue de Santiago. france24.com
Hanne, I. (2020, 8 décembre). À New-York, de la crise sanitaire à la « crise de la faim ». Libération.
L’Orient-Le Jour. (2020, 27 avril). « C’est la révolution de la faim » : nouvelle journée de mobilisation sur les routes du Liban. lorientlejour.com
Manget, L. (2020, 20 mai). Au Chili, le reconfinement déclenche des émeutes. France info.
RTS. (2020, 31 mai). La pandémie de coronavirus n’a pas anéanti les révoltes populaires. rts.ch.
Sudouest et AFP. (2020, 24 avril). Coronavirus : des émeutes de la faim au Venezuela, un homme tué par balles. sudouest.fr.