Malnutrition, food insecurity threaten unrest in Tunisia

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Article Summary
Tunisian authorities must act fast to address growing poverty and a lack of food security, which threaten the country with continued unrest.

One can safely argue, backed by figures, that nowadays a segment of Tunisians can no longer meet their basic food needs. Their risk is high, but widely underestimated. Poverty, hunger and the ensuing frustration have led to anger. Reactions of the hungry are devastating, harsh and destructive.

It is perhaps the first time in our country that the problem of hunger is being raised. The obvious reason is that the poverty rate in Tunisia is currently as high as 24.7%. This rate was determined according to standards establishing the poverty line at $2 per person per day.

The poverty index in question is not multidimensional since it does not take into account various other parameters, such as clothing, housing, years of education, access to drinking water, movable property ownership, etc.

In light of these elements, Tunisia is currently classified on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Hunger Map in Category 1, out of five, in terms of undernourished populations. In 2000, Tunisia was not even classified [on the map]. Currently, the country is close to some regions in Africa and Latin America and even to some parts of Southeast Asia.

The Tunisian issue

According to the FAO, the prevalence of malnutrition in Tunisia during 2011–2013 is within a 5% statistical range. Malnutrition is defined by several researchers specifically to Tunisia in relation to the daily amount of food available per capita based on a minimum of 2,200 calories, while chronic hunger has a lower threshold (1,500 calories).

According to econometric approaches, in Tunisia, a food ration composed of commonly consumed products is described according to the following weights: 62% calories from carbohydrates, 28% calories from fat and 10% calories from protein. By attaching these coefficients to current staple foods prices, the [daily] food ration costs around 3.58 dinars [$2.15].

The latest National Institute of Statistics (INS) figures show that the extreme poverty line stands at 757 dinars [$455] per person per year in cities, compared with 571 dinars [$343] in rural areas, thus 75.4% of the population living in extreme poverty is undernourished.

Moreover, if taking into consideration households in poverty at the upper and lower limits, the rate would be 48.7%. That being said, 1.287 million Tunisians suffer from undernourishment, and 1.928 million suffer from severe and chronic difficulties in meeting their organic needs.

Of course, there are multiple and interconnected reasons that have led to this situation. These reasons can be summarized  two types of inaccessibility: economic inaccessibility [unaffordability], when food is available but too expensive, and physical or geographic inaccessibility, when food is simply not abundant. These two types of inaccessibility are essentially due to the lack of opportunities for local [food] crops, unplanned urbanization, disruption of supply systems, size of the external debt and food dependency.

Add to this the shock of the Jan. 14, 2011, events that led to the decay of regulatory structures, economic chaos, dislocation of key sectors, such as agriculture and tourism, and unspeakable social “governance.”

Malnutrition hinders physiological development, constitutes an obstacle to the learning process and results in an accumulation of academic difficulties. Moreover, it reduces productivity and leads to an overall economic shortfall along with related disorders and significant health costs.

Risks faced

Our “officials” are either amnesic or unaware of the signs that trigger revolts amid poverty and hunger. They exhibit shocking arrogance and attitude. They claim to control all economic and social situations, ignoring the fact that vulnerable classes are being crushed and that, for a certain period, they have been consigned to silence, which usually precedes the storm.

First of all, let us remember that both yesterday and today, the sequence of events seems to unfolding in an inevitably similar framework. The overflowing riots are inescapably the result of the announcement to increase the price of basic food products and the like. These are usually funded by the compensation budget of the system to restore the “authenticity” of prices.

Applying a “stabilization and austerity policy,” which is falsely presented as being dictated at face value by the so-called international aid organizations, often motivates the above decisions that are supposedly geared toward avoiding a declaration of bankruptcy following external indebtedness, unsustainable debt servicing and the combined effects of rising interest rates and spiraling depreciation of the national currency.

The second observation is that in the absence of regulatory mechanisms aimed at achieving artificial social peace, under the above conditions, leaders are confronted with an important element related to the value of labor force reproduction. This falls within the context of a clear contradiction between the management of permanent foreign financial pressure and a desire to convince people through a “folkloric” appearance that everything that is done is aimed at ensuring their well-being through sacrifice.

Thus, we can deduce that on the one hand, riots are indicative of the paradoxical issue of abandonment of national sovereignty. On the other, they indicate a waiving of the need to reproduce the national labor force.

Finally, it is also as a result of often unpredictable uprisings launched by the poor and hungry that the national policy of prices and wages versus revenue and profit loses its appearance of disguised independence and reveals its strict subordination to the global dialectics of an international system that transcends and directs the subsystems of some countries.

At the heart of the ambiguity, there is of course the questioning of the governance system, its constitution, its functions in relation to the parallelism between the demands of international financial capital and alternatives of tightening consumption by the population to maintain the rentier tax system. Therefore, the mission of “leaders” consists of stripping producers from their livelihoods, and stripping the state of its capacity to act …

Found in: united nations, tunisia, hunger, food subsidies
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