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.
Haiti Innovation expressed disappointment and irritation with last week's New York Times article describing a solution to Haiti's hunger. Today, circulating through blogs all over cyber space, human rights lawyer Bill Quigley released a compelling report: "America's Role in Haiti's Hunger Riots". He goes beyond the trite phrases describing Haiti and delves into the truth behind high food costs. So although Haiti "needs to better feed itself", countries such as the US need to allow this to happen. Mr. Quigley raises the question, "Thirty years ago, Haiti raised nearly all the rice it needed. What happened?".
Last week, the New York Times ran an article about the relationship between hunger and insecurity, with considerable attention given to Haiti. It notes the food rioting, the mud cookies, and the desperation that comes from not being able to feed onself and one's family. Hunger is not new to Haiti. While this article has raised awareness about hunger in Haiti, it does not go into why or offer up solutions which is unfortunate.
Josette Sheeran, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), spoke this week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on “The Silent Tsunami" of hunger that threatens to push 100,000,000 more individuals into extreme poverty. You can imagine that Haiti came up several times during her presentation. Haitians are resilient people but soaring costs of food prices (and the subsequent increase in percentage of household income spent on food) is pushing people to their limits. As Ms. Sheeran noted, “The difference between civilization and anarchy is seven meals.” Hunger is a global problem and we do not have the option of not responding.
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.
If you visit the webpage of the World Food Programme (WFP), you'll see an appeal for funds with which to assist Haiti is on the front page. We have a very serious problem in Haiti and the WFP knows it. Food insecurity brings political instability and the inevitable protests that are taking place in Port au Prince. Rural Haiti will feel the reverbations. It would not be realistic to expect WFP to feed all of Haiti. However, if the agency receives the funds it needs, it can ensure the most vulnerable individuals and communities are assisted.