Africa Seen at Risk of Social Unrest From Food Shortages

African countries are most at risk of social unrest and famine stemming from food shortages and rising prices, according to risk-advisory firm Maplecroft.

Africa accounts for 39 of the 59 most at-risk countries in Maplecroft’s Food Security Risk Index and has nine of the 11 nations in the “extreme risk” category, the Bath, England-based company said in a statement today.

About 75 percent of the continent’s states are at “high” or “extreme risk.” Global food prices tracked by the United Nations climbed 1.4 percent in September to the highest level in six months as the worst U.S. drought since 1956 sparked rallies in soybeans and corn.

“Food price forecasts for 2013 provide a worrying picture,” Helen Hodge, Maplecroft’s head of maps and indexes, said in the statement. “Although a food crisis has not emerged yet, there is potential for food-related upheaval across the most vulnerable regions, including sub-Saharan Africa.”

African countries at “extreme risk” include Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Comoros and Sierra Leone, according to Maplecroft.

High food costs last year contributed to civil unrest across the Middle East and North Africa, toppling governments in Tunisia and Egypt. The U.S. State Department estimates that surging food prices triggered more than 60 riots worldwide from 2007 to 2009.

“The drivers of the ‘Arab Awakening’ were varied and complex and included long-standing public anger at high levels of governmental corruption and oppressive tactics against populations and political opposition,” said Alyson Warhurst, chief executive officer at Maplecroft. “When these factors combine with food insecurity, sparked by rising global prices, it can create an environment for social unrest.”

Maplecroft evaluated the availability, access and stability of food supplies in 197 countries, as well as the nutritional and health status of populations.

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