The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an emergency appeal to assist one million Haitians affected by prolonged drought made worse by El Niño. According to WFP, 3.6 million people face food insecurity. Haiti struggles to feed itself even in the best of times due to deforestation, erosion, vulnerability to natural disasters, land tenure issues, lack of modern equipment and techniques and questionable aid and trade practices. WFP will rely not only on food distributions but also cash assistance so beneficiaries can buy the food they need locally. WFP’s efforts are needed, welcomed, and worth supporting - as is the long-term development of domestic agriculture.
Plumpynut, a peanut based paste, has revolutionalized the way in which severely malnourished children around the world are treated. Many young lives have been saved as a result. There is now increasing attention on how Plumpynut variants can prevent children from becoming malnourished in the first place. In Haiti, both Meds and Food for Kids (MFK) and Partners in Health (PIH) produce products similar to Plumpynut. In the below New York Times article, Andrew Rice describes the promise, politics, and profitability of Plumpynut. Considering the negative impact that malnutrition has on the health and cognitive development of children in Haiti, it is well worth a read.
John Holmes, the UN Humanitarian Chief, yesterday expressed frustration with the humanitarian response in Haiti. Holmes stated finding available land for transitional shelters, slow decision-making by the government and new waves of Haitians moving into the settlements (often for services not available in their own neighborhoods) have made responding to the crisis particularly difficult. The Haitian government, responsible for setting priorities and developing plans, lacks staffing and expertise. It is being pulled in many directions at once on issues relating to shelter, hurricane contingency planning, governance reforms, elections, law enforcement, food security, and decentralization.
As we get closer to May, the rains will become more frequent and intense. Even brief rainfall to date gives an indication of how vulnerable the displaced in Port au Prince are to flooding and mud-slides. Some, such as the displaced at the Petionville Golf Club are being relocated to the hastily prepared Corail-Cesselesse site 15 km north of Port au Prince. Six other sites require urgent evacuation before the rainy season. Other sites can be made safer with engineering interventions. Disturbingly, hundreds sheltering at the National Stadium were reported to have been forcibly removed. Close coordination and rapid action are urgently needed to protect the displaced from the upcoming rains.
Hard to believe that just a year and a half ago, there were food riots in Port au Prince and other Haitian cities. Since then, Haiti has become become politically stable to the point where firms involved in agriculture, textiles, infrastructure development and tourism are considering investing in Haiti. Livelihood opportunities are sorely needed given that half of Haitians live on less than two dollars a day. Still, the majority of Haitians are small farmers. Without opportunities to provide for themselves and their families, the influx of the rural poor to urban centers will only accelerate. Increasing agricultural productivity/opportunities is key to improving food security in Haiti.
Here's the good news - the first hurricane of 2009 passed on by. The bad news is that we've got a long way to go until hurricane season is over. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that there will be seven to eleven named storms in the Atlantic before the end of November, with the potential for three to six hurricanes. As we saw last year, tropical storms can wreck havoc on both crops and infrastructure. Humanitarian responders are gearing up.
It has been a busy month for Haiti. The Donors Conference turned out reasonably well. At the Summit of the Americas meeting, members of the Organisation of American States (OAS) expressed their willingness to offer long-term support to Haiti. OAS Secretary General José Miguel welcomed the focus on Haiti, noted that the Haitian government drafted a plan on how the international community can help. As he put it, 'Now you know exactly what you have to support…I think things are really going to begin to happen for Haiti.'' We hope so as well.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. President Bill Clinton will visit Haiti March 9-10 to promote international aid for Haiti. According to UN Peacekeeping Chief Alain Le Roy, ''Clearly it's a fragile situation in Haiti. There are still lots of difficulties but we think Haiti is winnable." Also noteworthy is that a long awaited donor conference has been set for April 13-14 and will be chaired by the Inter American Development Bank. Expect food security to be an important part of these discussions.
What a year. The soaring costs of food and fuel, political unrest, and natural disasters prevented any real progress toward food security. The international community tunes in and tunes out to Haiti’s struggle to feed itself. For now, there is attention. Two of the main tasks of the Haitian government and civil society in 2009 will be to begin reversing environmental degradation and reinvigorating the Haitian agricultural system. The challenges remain daunting, but are not insurmountable. There is much that we, as friends of Haiti, can do for a better year in 2009.