Egypt’s Bread Problem

Egypt is still in turmoil following the retirement of long-time leader President Hosni Mubarak, and environmental problems can be counted as a significant factor in what’s fueling the sometimes violent protests.

If you have seen video streaming the riots, you may have noticed protestors holding loaves of bread in the air, chanting “Aish, Horreya, Karama Insannayia” or “Bread, Freedom, Human Dignity.” The Egyptian word for bread translates as “life.” More wheat is imported to Egypt than anywhere else in the world, and it is one of the few food items easily afforded by the Egyptian people, half of whom live on less than $2/day.

But now, with the price of bread almost double what it was last year, anger has risen quickly. Since Egypt doesn’t have the fertile land to grow their own grains, they must rely on countries like Russia, Australia and the U.S. to feed its growing population. But when Russia was hit with its hottest summer in recorded history last year, unprecedented, consecutive 100+ degree temperatures and wildfires destroyed their wheat crop and forced the nation to halt all exports.

This past month, Australia, the world’s fourth-largest exporter of wheat, has experienced unnaturally heavy, crop-destroying rains and flooding, costing the nation billions and driving the price of wheat up further. Droughts in China and the U.S. plains, as well as excessive rains in Canada and Pakistan, have also limited this year’s wheat production.

“I think we are seeing some of the early effects of climate change on food security,” says Earth Policy Institute’s veteran environmental analyst Lester Brown.

Dennis McGinn, Retired Naval Vice Admiral and speaker on climate change’s impacts on security, added, “If you have long-term droughts and crop failures, and in other parts of the world too much water in the form of flooding, you have added pressure to the already existing fault lines in fragile societies with fragile governments. And certainly Egypt would fall under that category.”

SOURCES: Los Angeles Times; Planet Change; Time Magazine.