Haiti Food Security Update (10/13/2008)

  • Posted on: 12 October 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

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. 


In addition to the staple crops that were lost, the cost of imported foods rose dramatically.  The cost of imported U.S. rice, upon which Haiti is far too dependant, doubled in Gonaives to almost six U.S. dollars for a large can.  This makes purchasing a bowl of rice a struggle for millions without livelihoods.


The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) is doing what it can. Executive Director Josette Sheeran told Haitian President Rene Preval that she is committed to helping improve Haitians' access to food and nutrition. WFP will continue to support the government with social and nutritional safety nets as well as the urgent rehabilitation of roads and schools.


So far, WFP supplied enough food to feed more than 684,739 people since the launch of relief operations.  Of that, 481,641 people in Gonaives received WFP rations.  In all, over 3,704 metric tons of rice, beans, cooking oil, water and other supplies were distributed, making this a major operation.


Assessments by WFP confirm that agriculture in many parts of the country has essentially been wiped out.  WFP points out that fishing communities are also at risk.  An assesment mission to Anse Rouge found that fishermen are unable to fish because they have lost their boats and nets in the storms. Salt production infrastructures are also damaged.


No emergency operation is without hiccoughs.  At one point, food donated for Haitian storm victims was stolen and put up for sale.  However, authorities were tipped off by concerned community members in Carrefour where the three storehouses worth of food were being kept. They retrieved the food and are now looking for several suspects. This is a positive sign from the government that theft of humanitarian commodities won’t be tolerated.  There has not been enough attention given to the disruption the storms have caused to educational systems.  The storms happened shortly before school was set to begin.  Classes were pushed back to October for most of the country and November for Gonaives. This was unavoidable.  In Gonaives, some schools are still being used as temporary shelters.


The USAID Famine Early Warning System (FEWS-NET) notes an estimated 2.8 to 3.3 million people are moderately or extremely food insecure (including the approximately 800,000 people affected by the storms who were already food insecure).  So what needs to happen going forward?  According to FEWS-NET, emergency food assistance must continue until the next harvests in March through June 2009.  During this time, canals and drains need to be cleaned out and irrigation systems repaired. Seeds and other agricultural inputs will need to be distributed. 


Longer term assistance needs include:


--repairing infrastructure, rebuilding farms, increasing national production, protecting watersheds through reforestation, remediation of gullies, and erosion prevention.


--promoting investment in various growth sectors of the economy to reduce the unemployment rate and poverty;


--expanding activities likely to mitigate chronic malnutrition, including in the areas of health, nutrition, water, and sanitation;


--improving the coordination, monitoring and evaluation of development programs and crisis-response operations.


Accomplishing the above will take more resources than Haiti has. Sadly, UN Appeal for emergency operations (attached) remains severely under-funded.  Perhaps it is because of the global financial crisis or it may be the perception that funding Haiti's development needs is an American responsibility, due to history and proximity.  Regardless, the world would be better served by a stable, productive Haiti.  Funding the appeal fully would be in the best interests of the international community.


The United States is playing a role.  Henrietta Fore, the USAID Director, noted “This will take billions of dollars. This is not something small.”  Janet Sanderson, the American Ambassador went on to say, “The scope of this is frankly unimaginable in many countries…a lot of the progress of the last couple of years has been swept away by these waters.”


The U.S. government sent over $30 million in food aid and humanitarian assistance.  Health experts from USAID and the CDC were deployed and the Department of Defense made available its engineers.  The USS Kersarge assisted with deploying emergency relief items. Attached is the latest update from USAID on the recovery activites they are supporting in Haiti. 


Other countries have been assisting.  Colombia airlifted food and clothing.  Canada deployed one of its navy ships, the HMCS Saint John.  Brazil in particular deserves special recognition for its efforts.  Already the driving force behind MINUSTAH, Brazil demonstrated regional leadership by immediately releasing US $100 million after the flooding for the purchase of food and other needed items.  The Brazilian airforce then airlifted two separate flights of emergency supplies to Haiti.  The Brazilian Interministerial Group for Humanitarian Assistance also arranged for medical supply to be sent to Haiti and Jamaica.  This eight ton shipment, worth more than $340,000 included anti-hipertensive, anti-malarial, and anti-tuberculosis drugs.


Haiti remains in an emergency.  It will take a coordinated effort to first ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable are met until the next harvest and then to work with the Haitian government and civil society on long term steps that will get the country back on the road to food security. 



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