(Michael Marshall) As prices rise, tempers fray. The US drought has pushed up global food prices and is likely to continue to do so. Some say riots and unrest may follow.
According to the Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, El Niño conditions are likely to develop over the Pacific in August or September, which should affect global weather before the end of the year. This may drive food prices up further if it causes floods or further drought.
US farms are already crippled: the Department of Agriculture says the corn (maize) crop is likely to be the worst since 1995. As a result, the Food Price Index (FPI) of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization rose 6 per cent in July, to 213.
That is dangerously high, says Yaneer Bar-Yam of the New England Complex Systems Institute in Massachusetts. He has found that if the FPI goes above 210, riots and unrest become more likely around the world. Both the 2011 Arab Spring and the 2008 riots in places such as Mexico, India, Russia and Belgium may have been partly triggered by high food prices.
More unrest is likely in the next year, although we cannot predict where, says Bar-Yam. That depends on how governments respond.