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The Cost of Midwest Flooding Rises

Posted by terres on July 2, 2008

Midwest Floodwaters Falling, Costs Rising

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Levees on the cresting Mississippi River held Sunday as the worst US Midwest flooding in 15 years began to ebb, but multibillion-dollar crop losses may boost world food prices for years.


Grain from a silo floats in floodwaters after the Meyer levee broke near Canton, Missouri, June 19, 2008. REUTERS/Frank Polich. Image may be subject to copyright. See RTSF Fair Use Notice!

Water levels on the river receded for the second straight day as mostly clear weather gave saturated areas a chance to start draining. Forecasts for similar dry weather in coming days gave further encouragement.

The swollen river was expected to crest Monday in St. Louis at 38.9 feet, 11 feet below the record set in 1993 and a level considered “manageable,” said US Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District spokesman Alan Dooley.

“The crest in the areas up the Mississippi River in the district has passed,” Dooley said. “The water is still up very high and it is up against levees.”

There were no fresh levee breaks reported Sunday. At least three dozen levees, berms and other flood barriers have been overtopped along the Mississippi in the last two weeks as the runoff from torrential rains this month pushed south along the main US inland waterway.

Several flood warnings remained in effect for communities in Missouri and Illinois, but officials said they expected the worst was over, with the focus now shifting to clean-up.

“We’re just mentally and physically exhausted,” said Winfield, Missouri, resident Carol Broseman, who fled her home for a shelter Saturday after flood waters engulfed her neighborhood. “I’ve cried all I can cry.”

The National Weather Service on Sunday forecast windy but mostly dry weather in the western and central Midwest states for the next several days, which will help waters recede further. Many Iowa rivers, which saw record flooding two weeks ago, were back near or below flood stage Sunday.

The Corps of Engineers at Rock Island, Illinois, reopened two locks on the Mississippi River but said four in the district remained closed with water still 3-5 feet above lock walls.

At one point 388 miles of the Mississippi River were closed to commercial traffic, from Clinton, Iowa, to the Jefferson Barracks Bridge, just south of St. Louis. The blockages have cost barge companies and other shippers millions of dollars.

COSTS, RELIEF REQUESTS RISING

The Midwest storms and torrential rains have killed at least 24 people since late May. More than 38,000 people have been driven from their homes, mostly in Iowa where 83 of 99 counties have been declared disaster areas.

Fears that as many as 5 million acres of corn and soybeans have been lost to flooding in the world’s largest grain and food exporter pushed corn and livestock prices to record highs in the last week.

The ripple inflation effect on global food prices as US prices soar has alarmed everyone from central bankers to food aid groups. Fears that livestock herds will be culled because of soaring corn feed prices may push meat prices up for years.

Flood aid and relief issues also poured into the political arena.

Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama said Saturday that Midwest levee breaks and flood damage were reasons to back his US$60 billion spending proposal to modernize US roads, bridges and waterways. Much of that would be financed by downsizing US commitments in Iraq, he said.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has estimated 45,000 square miles of his state had been hit by tornadoes or flooding, including 340 towns, with extensive damage to road and rail lines at a cost of “tens of billions of dollars.”

Chemicals from farm fields and other toxic substances left behind as waters recede have created a potential health threat. Damaged municipal sewage systems in places like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were releasing raw sewage into rivers. But drinking water supplies remain unpolluted in most areas, officials said.

In Cedar Rapids, where officials have said 4,000 homes were damaged by this month’s flooding, government buyout plans estimated at US$80 million or more were under discussion.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has 43 disaster recovery centers open across the flooded areas of Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

In Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin, 56,096 registrations for assistance have been received from disaster victims and more than US$115 million approved for housing assistance and other disaster-related needs. More than 5,600 households have filed flood insurance claims. (Writing by Peter Bohan; editing by Vicki Allen)

Story by Carey Gillam – REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

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Posted in bush, climate change, Corporatocracy, corruption, ecosystems, environment, farmers, food, food prices, food riots, GHG Pollution, Global Warming, health, human rights, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Fueling Food Shortages

Posted by terres on April 27, 2008

Fueling Food Shortages
By Ralph Nader

Where is Harry Chapin when you need him? The popular folk singer (Cat’s in the Cradle), who lost his life in an auto crash 27 years ago, was an indefatigable force of nature against hunger—in this country and around the world.

To hear Harry speak out against the scourge of hunger in a world of plenty was to hear informed passion that was relentless whether on Capitol Hill, at poverty conferences or at his concerts.

Now the specter of world hunger is looming, with sharply rising basic food prices and unnecessary food shortages sparking food riots in places like Haiti and Egypt. Officials with the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) are alarmed. The WFP has put out an emergency appeal for more funds, saying another 100 million humans have been thrown into the desperate hunger pits.

Harry would have been all over the politicians in Congress and the White House who, with their bellies full, could not muster the empathy to do something.

Directly under Bush and the Congress is the authority to reduce the biggest single factor boosting food prices—reversing the tax-subsidized policy of growing ever more corn to turn into fuel at the expense of huge acreages that used to produce wheat, soy, rice and other edibles.

Corn ethanol is a multifaceted monstrosity—radiating damage in all directions of the compass. Reducing acreage for edible crops has sparked a surge in the price of bread and other foodstuffs. Congress and Bush continue to mandate larger amounts of subsidized corn ethanol.

Republican Representative Robert W. Goodlatte says: “The mandate basically says [corn] ethanol comes ahead of food on your table, comes ahead of feed for livestock, comes ahead of grains available for export.”

Corn growing farmers are happy with a bushel coming in at $5 to $6—a record.

A subsidy-laden, once-every-five-years farm bill is winding its way through Congress. The bill keeps the “good-to-fuel” mandates that are expanding corn acreage and contributing to a rise of global food prices.

Of course, more meat diets in China, futures market speculation, higher prices for oil and some bad weather and poor food reserve planning have also contributed to shortages and higher prices.

But subsidized corn ethanol gets the first prize for policy madness. It not only damages the environment, soaks up the water from mid-west aquifers, scuttles set asides for soil conservation, but its net energy equation qualifies for collective insanity on Capitol Hill. To produce a gallon of ethanol from corn requires almost as much energy (mostly coal burning) as it produces.

Designed to alleviate oil imports, hold down gasoline prices and diminish greenhouse gases, corn ethanol has flopped on all three scores.

Princeton scholar Lester Brown, an early sounder of the alarm of global food shortages and higher prices, writes in Science Magazine “that the net impact of the food-to-fuel push will be an increase in global carbon emissions—and thus a catalyst for climate change.”

Can Congress change course and drop its farm subsidy of corn ethanol this year? Observers say, despite the growing calamities and the real risk of severe malnutrition, even starvation in Africa, Congress will do nothing.

Farm subsidies, once installed, are carved in stone—unless there is enough outcry from food consumers, taxpayers and environmentalists. They are paying from the pocketbook, from their taxes and health. That should be enough motivation, unless they need to see the distended stomachs of African and Asian children on the forthcoming television news.

Unless we wake up, we will continue to be a country stuck in traffic—in more ways than one.

Don’t rely on the election year political debates to pay attention to destructive corn ethanol programs. For years I have been speaking out against this boondoggle, while championing the small farmer in America, but no one in positions of Congressional leadership has been listening.

They must be waiting for the situation to get worse before they absorb a fraction of Harry Chapin’s empathy and care.

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Posted in America, ecosystems, environment, ethanol, food riots, human rights, hunger, poor, UN, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »