Haiti recently celebrated Fet Gede, the Day of the Dead. As Matt notes, it is a time for honoring those who have come before and a reminder to love those who are still here. November 18th marks the anniversary of the Battle of Vertieres, the historic battle which ensured Haiti’s place as the first free black republic and the only country to have led a successful slave rebellion. The juxtaposition of these two holidays reminds us that life is both a gift and a struggle. In Haiti, the struggle against hunger, poverty, and instability continues.
Even before the hurricanes, Haiti was in emergency mode. The rising costs of food and fuel prompted riots and former members of the Haitian military had re-emerged in the north. According to Haitian Agriculture Minister Joanas Gue, the agricultural system has been destroyed. In many parts of the country, staple crops such as rice, corn, plantains, and yams were lost. The poorest farmers need assistance to purchase the seeds, tools, fertilizers and agricultural inputs that will ensure the success of the next harvest. Until then, food security is tenuous.
Project Medishare has been operating on Haiti's Central Plateau since 1995. Working with community groups, the Haitian Ministry of Health, Partners in Health, and the Green Family Foundation, Project Medishare has dramatically improved the health infrastructure of Thomonde and sorrounding areas. Construction is proceeding on their latest and most innovative project - a Nutrition Training Complex with three components: (1) An AK-1000 processing facility; (2) A treatment center for malnourished children; and (3) An education and training center. This community-driven approach will promote children's health and bolster the local ecomomy at the same time.
Is the third time the charm? Prime Ministerial Candidate number three Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis was approved in a 61-1 vote in Haiti’s lower legislative chamber. Sexism, homophobia, and power politics could yet derail this nomination. Haiti needs a Prime Minister in order to have a functional government that can tackle developmental challenges, chief among them food insecurity.
Malnutrition is a major problem throughout the developing world including Haiti. It saps the immune system, making it easier to get sick with and die from an infectious disease. It slows cognitive development reducing the contributions a person can make to his or her country. After years of business as usual, there have been several very promising developments such as the Ready to Use Therapeutic Food called Plumpynut. There is another important intervention called Sprinkles - a easy to use nutritional supplement that has proven effective in Haiti and elsewhere.
Copied below is a good article in Reason Online concerning the results of the 2008 Copenhagen Conference. The purpose of the conference was to bring together the world's leading economists to concentrate the attention of policymakers, charitable foundations, and members of the public on the relative urgency and costs of the world's big problems. You might be surprised by the number one solution - suppplying Vitamin A and zinc children who lack them in the developing world. The price tag is $60 million a year but the cost is dwarfed it by the benefits - stronger immune systems, less sickness and death, and improved cognitive development. Read their proposed solutions and then vote whether you agree or disagree with their findings.
Below is a Miami Herald article on Haitian dairies that I read with great interest. With the exception of Laughing Cow cheese, it is hard to find and even harder to afford dairy in Haiti. Powdered milk is expensive and when mixed with unclean water can be dangerous for children. Countries such as India have a wide network of dairy cooperatives which provide jobs for women and better nutrition for kids. One glass of milk would make a real difference in boosting their immune systems. According to Dr. Michel Chancy, approximately 100 dairies would meet Haiti's domestic demand. After reading the article watch videos concerning the successful Let Agogo program to learn more.
Needless to say, a lot has happened in Haiti over the last few weeks. We saw food rioting in Port au Prince, Les Cayes, and Gonaives. Reuters has photos available here. Food insecurity and the rising cost of living were the primary (but probably not the only) factors. These tensions have been building up for quite some time and it is frustrating that the government did not intervene sooner. In the end, the Prime Minister was ousted and President Preval made an appeal to the international community for support. Now is a good time to review both what the Haitian government has done in response and which donors have stepped up to offer their support during this difficult time.
When I see articles re-emerge about the clay biscuits the poorest of the poor in Haiti eat, as seems to happen every few years like clockwork, it frustrates me. We all know Haiti is a hungry country, but communities need solutions instead of pity, and partners who empower rather than provide handouts. Sometimes I read about well meaning groups in the United States that decide to box up food and send it to Haiti. Well intentioned but not smart - this is dependency and not development. Solutions exist and Kimberly Green of the Green Family Foundation writes about one in a blog she submitted to the Huffington Post. You can read it here but i have also copied it below.