There a number of new items on the Partners in Health Website worth looking at. Watch (or read) an interview with Paul Farmer and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Paul traces the history of Haiti, discusses how a country with agricultural roots came to be tremendously food insecure, and explains how social justice and public health reinforce each other. As he puts it, "We need a movement that’s not just run by people who are experts, but the citizenry. Be part of a movement to push forward social justice, and that will lead us on healthcare, as well."
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.
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.
Don't forget - Mother's Day is Sunday, May 11th. Project Medishare has released a special Mother's Day Appeal to complete their innovative program to treat malnourished children with locally grown ingredients. Once established in Thomonde, Project Medishare wants to expand their coverage throughout the entire Central Plateau. You can make a special donation in your mother's name to Project Medishare this year, helping to make sure that Haitian mothers are able to keep their children nourished and healthy.
Malnutrition is a threat to health but it is treatable. The cure is the appropriate kind of food. There is no reason why children should die either from malnutrition or infectious diseases they are vulnerable to because malnourishment has weakened their immune systems. Earlier we wrote about Plumpynut, a Ready to Use Therapeutic Food that has revolutionized the way we treat malnourished children - and saved many of their lives in the process. Current sent us a video about Meds and Foods for Kids, organization in Cap Haitian that decided to make their own version of Plumpynut from local ingredients. They have been very successful and now the World Bank is supporting them to provide "Medika Mamba" nationwide. It is an innovative idea that is now having a nationwide impact.
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.
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.
Haitians are no strangers to hunger. Yet, the past six months of rising food and fuel costs has hit the country hard. But Haiti is not alone. Citizens of other countries are being squeezed as well. Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mexico, Mozambique, Senegal, Argentina, Peru, and Indonesia have all seen protests over rising food costs. Those who were struggling but making ends meet have found themselves spending more and more of their household income on food (and by extension less in other areas such as education.) Will our children and grandchildren inherit a hungrier world? If so, their world will be less democatic, more instable, and more dangerous.
It would be an under-statement to say that Haiti is a hungry country. Population growth, deforestation, and a weak economy are just a few reasons. Hunger also contributes to instability in Haiti - building a functional democracy that can endure over the long term is a challenge when many do not know where their next meal is coming from.