Figure (click to enlarge) – Time dependence of FAO Food Price Index from January 2004 to May 2011. Red dashed vertical lines correspond to beginning dates of “food riots” and protests associated with the major recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. The overall death toll is reported in parentheses [26-55]. Blue vertical line indicates the date, December 13, 2010, on which we submitted a report to the U.S. government, warning of the link between food prices, social unrest and political instability [56]. Inset shows FAO Food Price Index from 1990 to 2011. [From arXiv:1108.2455, page 3]

Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.” ~ Aristotle.

By crossing data on food price, and food price peaks with an ongoing trend of increasing prices, as well as the date of riots around the world, 3 of my colleagues at NECSI – the New England Complex Systems Institute (link), Boston,  found out a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely. By doing so, unveiled a model that accurately explained why the waves of unrest that swept the world in 2008 and 2011 crashed when they did. That was the past. NECSI team however, expects a perilous trend in rising food prices to continue (link). Even before the extreme weather scrambled food prices this year, their 2011 report predicted that the next great breach would occur in August 2013, and that the risk of more worldwide rioting would follow. So, if trends hold, these complex systems model say we’re less than one year and counting from a fireball of global unrest riots.

The abstract and PDF link into their work follows:

[…] Social unrest may reflect a variety of factors such as poverty, unemployment, and social injustice. Despite the many possible contributing factors, the timing of violent protests in North Africa and the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food prices. We identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely. These observations suggest that protests may reflect not only long-standing political failings of governments, but also the sudden desperate straits of vulnerable populations. If food prices remain high, there is likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption. Underlying the food price peaks we also found an ongoing trend of increasing prices. We extrapolate these trends and identify a crossing point to the domain of high impacts, even without price peaks, in 2012-2013. This implies that avoiding global food crises and associated social unrest requires rapid and concerted action. […] in Marco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand and Yaneer Bar-Yam, “The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East“, arXiv:1108.2455, August 10, 2011. [PDF link]

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