EDITORIAL Cost of Living Crisis

While crime continues to dominate the various societies in our region skyrocketing food prices – and the general cost of living – is another hot topic of discussion throughout the Caribbean. And the recent drought has not helped matters. “The price of food in the Caribbean, St. Lucia in particular, is ridiculous,” said Jase of Gros Islet, St Lucia. “Everything has increased, especially our basic necessities: rice, flour, milk, salt, sugar, tinned foods etc. What is going on?” Jase asked. Steve Malcolm of Jamaica has a theory, shared By many government leaders, businessmen and analysts. That view focuses on the rising cost of oil on the world market having a traceable trickle-down effect on just about everything, especially in small countries which import most of what they consume. Mr Malcolm said: “We’re living in a global market system where the price of oil has skyrocketed and the price of wheat has gone up.” Some countries report that they have already taken steps to ‘reduce the cost of living’. In St Kitts-Nevis the list of goods under price control has been expanded. In the case of St Lucia the government has said it would look into the list of goods under price control. The Stephenson King administration had indicated that it is following St Kitts/Nevis and Barbados By putting a cap on food prices. Prime Minister King had said that Castries won’t wait for regional action on food prices in response to the rising cost of living. The issue of food prices in the Caribbean has also come to the attention of the Pan American Health Organisation(PAHO). In a new report PAHO includes several Caribbean states among 37 nations worldwide facing food crises because of conflict and disaster and which may require foreign aid. It lists Dominica, St Lucia, Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic as countries which have to contend with ‘severe localised food insecurity as a result of floods caused By tropical storms.” In its global assessment, the agency said food prices were being driven upwards By drought and floods linked to climate change, rising oil prices, and a growing demand for bio-fuels. It said many countries will not be able to cope unless their farmers get immediate help. Global food prices rose again in 2009. The World Bank food benchmark index increased 23% between January and December 2009. Sugar prices rose 80% during this period and rice prices rose 9% in December 2009 alone. While the food price index for 2009 was on average 17% lower than the 2008 average, prices remained higher than 2007. The recent increase could aggravate the adverse effect of the food price spike of 2008 which continues to be felt in many countries in Asia and Africa. This is primarily for two reasons. First, despite the general easing of food prices in international markets after the mid-2008 food price spike, prices had been coming down very slowly in domestic markets in some of these countries. The recent upward trend in the international markets could reverse this gradual decline. Second, the global economic crisis of 2009 may have further strained the poor’s already stretched coping mechanisms, though this impact varies considerably By region. Domestic staple grain price increases appear to have been greater than global grain price increas-es in recent months. Domestic food prices data from the FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System for 58 low and middle income countries shows that the price increase of staples in several countries was significantly higher than the change in average food prices globally. 17 out of the 37 countries in the dataset witnessed higher average prices of their main staple in 2009 than in 2008.

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