Like the United States, Haiti has a military tradition. Both countries won freedom through warcraft. Sadly, the Haitian military went on to kill far more Haitians than all attacking forces combined. The Haitian military degraded into an engine for corruption, human rights abuses, and coup after coup. Jean Bertrand Aristide disbanded the military in 1995 but they remain a threat as Jonathan Katz reminds us in the Miami Herald.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the development agency of the American government and a major bilateral donor to Haiti. USG support to Haiti is considerable - In Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, USAID provided 245 million dollars in foreign assistance to Haiti, 279 million in FY 2008 and is scheduled to provide 245 million in FY 2009. The goal of this support can be summarized in one word - stability. The point of this blog is not to evaluate these programs but to point out what USAID is doing, where, and to highlight some useful resources on the USAID/Haiti website.
Maybe I should call this blog the Fuel Security update instead. The big news this past week was the elimination of the government gasoline subsidy which drove fuel prices up to over six dollars a gallon. With limited funds and infinite needs, the government decided to focus its attention on agriculture and other programs to fight poverty. However, transporting food and other commodities (or oneself if seeking health care) is less affordable now and out of reach for many. The tap-taps are all charging more. Also, the price hike is eating into the budgets of the international and non-governmental organizations which are active throughout the country. More money on fuel means less for programs.
Strike two. Preval’s second nominee for the position of Prime Minister was rejected. While food insecurity continues, politicians squabble. I have a modest proposal - Give the politicians concerned one meal a day until a Prime Minister has been selected and a new goverment can be formed. This is, after all, the reality for many in Haiti. I suspect officials would work out a solution rather quickly.
Attached is the Haitian Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. Within it, the Haitian Government has set priorities and identified steps that need to be taken to make progress against poverty. This document provides the framework that allows international partners to calibrate their programming in order to synchronize their efforts with the government. Any plan worth its weight in paper must be ambitious, flexible, and achievable. Let's take a look at the document and see if it holds up.
Below is an update concerning food security in Haiti. First though, I read an interesting article in the Miami Herald about the critical role of coordination in Haiti relief efforts. In fact, it notes that an uncoordinated flow of aid can cause harm, particular in a setting like Haiti where food is plentiful on store shelves but most people can't afford it because of high unemployment and global price hikes. The best way to help Haiti right now is to contribute to both the organizations that can make a difference now and those that can help Haiti become self-reliant over the long-term.
Our friends at Current sent us a link to a piece concerning a town in the Upper Central Plateau of Haiti called Pignon. Pignon is an isolated community best known for its regional hospital. The road leading to Pignon is one of the worst in Haiti - The last time I was on it, the pickup truck literally tipped over. But even in the most difficult locations, when a community comes together, it can accomplish amazing things.
Copied below is a brief article in the Boston Globe written by Dr. Joia Mukherjee and Donna Barry, both of whom work for the Institute for Health and Social Justice at Partners In Health. Though short, the article cuts through many of the cliches we've seen so far on hunger in Haiti. The piece covers the long term historical reasons for food security, which is by no means new. It also notes how food "assistance" can cause more harm than good and the burden of Haiti's debt on this struggling, young democracy. With minimal tourism or industry, Haiti need its agricultural sector more than ever. But will developed countries let Haiti compete? A level playing field would be more important than any hand out for Haiti's long term development.
With an Agronomist for a President and now an Economist for a Prime Minster, we hope that the Haitian government will address the food crisis head on. The Government will need to articulate short term measures and a long term plan to the Haitian public, to donors, and the international community. Preval has spent a great deal of time talking about national production - but this will not be possible without halting and reversing envrinmental degradation. Fortunately, Haiti continues to draw support from major donors. This will allow the government some time to establish new policies and programs.
Security and food security go hand in hand in countries like Haiti that are dependent on importation for survival. President Rene Preval announced a 15 percent cut in rice prices and a series of measures to uphold national food production namely by providing subsidies, credit and technical assistance to farmers. Rice exports are banned. However, Haitians cannot survive on rice alone. Corn, beans, oil, etc. all remain expensive. The President has yet to appoint a Prime Minister who can assemble a new Cabinet. We hope, whoever he or she is, the new Prime Minister will take food security seriously and communicate often with the public about what is doing to reduce food costs and improve national production. This should have been a priority long ago.