While the United States has been focusing on new security threats such as terrorism and bioweapons, an ancient cause of human strife is re-emerging. Global hunger was supposed to have been tamed by the Green Revolution, freer markets and wealthier consumers, but the World Bank now estimates that 33 countries are gripped by social unrest because of soaring food and energy prices. In just two months, rice prices have risen 75% globally, and wheat prices are up 120% compared with a year ago. That's a calamity for the billion people who live in extreme poverty -- and for many of their governments. This month alone, food riots have broken out in Indonesia, the Philippines and Cameroon, and five people were killed in clashes in Haiti that brought down the prime minister.
The U.N. World Food Program has called for $500 million in emergency donations, and President Bush responded Monday with $200 million. Despite flak from the farm lobby, the White House is sticking to its position that the food should be purchased locally, where possible, to cut the transportation and distribution costs that can eat up half of the food-aid budget. To stretch the aid money further, Congress should buck the labor unions and lift the requirement that American food aid be shipped on U.S.-flagged vessels.