Haiti Food Security Update (11/6/2008)

  • Posted on: 6 November 2008
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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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.


The USAID funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS-NET) continues to be one of the best sources of information on food security in Haiti.  On October 30, FEWS-NET reported that approximately 3 million people are food insecure countrywide, including 800,000 storm-affected individuals. Click here for a Miami Herald video of the hurricane damage.



The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) had a chance to see this food insecurity first-hand when he travelled to Haiti from Oct 23-24.  According to the HC, priority humanitarian needs include food assistance and water, sanitation, and hygiene programs.  There is also a need for shelter for those who have been displaced and are living in schools, especially given that by November 10th, schools are scheduled to open again in Gonaives.  The HC noted a need for disaster risk reduction programs including early warning systems, watershed management programs, reinforcement of river banks, and reforestation in areas particularly susceptible to landslides and flooding.  Though these activities are not cheap, they are absolutely more cost-effective than submerged cities, destroyed crops, and washed out infrastructure.



According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 10,000 individuals in Gonaïves are now participating in a cash-for-work cleanup program managed by the GOH.  In total, 25,000 individuals are now involved in cash-for-work programs in Gonaïves.  If this program works well, I hope it will be expanded and replicated throughout Haiti. Haiti’s labor force remains largely untapped and there are many hard working individuals who could be put to work building (or rebuilding) the country's infrastructure so that the next disaster can be prevented when possible and mitigated if not.  



The World Food Program (WFP) remains active in Gonaives and elsewhere.  As of October 22, WFP reported that donors had contributed approximately one third of the U.N. Flash Appeal's $33 million for emergency food assistance for an estimated 800,000 targeted beneficiaries over a six-month period. USAID has provided approximately $14 million to WFP for emergency food assistance. As of October 27, WFP had distributed approximately 5,804 MT of emergency food aid to more than 572,000 beneficiaries, including nearly 266,700 individuals in Gonaïves. The Norwegian Red Cross pledged 46 trucks to to increase WFP transport capacity in the country. As of October 28, approximately 23 of the trucks had arrived in Port au Prince and the remainder were scheduled to arrive in the coming days.



As of October 25, WFP, in coordination with the GOH Coordination Régionale des Organisations du Sud-Est, began assisting new beneficiaries in Southeast Department, including an estimated 6,000 beneficiaries in the communities of La Montagne and Marbial. WFP also continues to provide air transport for emergency food distributions in areas inaccessible by road, including Ile de la Tortue, in Northwest Department.



The Haitian government reported that 3% of all livestock countrywide (or 100,000 animals) had been lost in the floods. This may not seem like much but when your animals represent all the savings that you have, it is quite a loss – the Haitian equivalent of a banking crisis.



IRIN prodcued an article on the impact that food insecurity is having on adherence to medications for TB, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. On empty stomachs, medicines often do not work as well and cause unpleasant side effects that could discourage someone from taking the medication regularly. This not only harms the health of the patient but could result in drug resistance, which is the last thing Haiti needs. According to HIV/AIDS specialist Dr Reynold Grand Pierre, "It's difficult to assure ARV drug adherence without that food support. As they say at Partners in Health, to provide medicines and not food makes so little sense it is like washing your hands, and then drying them in the dirt ("lave men, siye te.")



The government’s attempts to boost local agricultural production have been unable to keep up with Haiti's 3.3 percent annual population growth.  He goes on to say, “You can give a lot of money to agriculture, but if you don't give anything to the environment it doesn't help…We need to plant trees, protect the ravines and make sure rivers take their proper course, otherwise every year it's going to be the same thing."  To that, we might add that families need continual access to information and commodities with which to decide the size of their families. 



The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced it would provide 10 million dollars to support Haitian farmers.  This money will be used to promote local agricultural production and increase the availability of basic foodstuffs in the markets, thereby  enhancing food security for the population as a whole.  Small farmers constitute 80% of the agricultural labor force.  The project will be oveseen by FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Government of Haiti.



On October 17th, the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Rights & Democracy) marked World Food Day with the release of a report based on the findings of an international fact-finding mission to Haiti led by Rights & Democracy and the Haitian non-governmental organization Groupe de Recherche et d'Appui en Milieu Rural (GRAMIR) in May.  The group found widespread abuses of food throughout Haiti.  I am not familiar with the group, but you can find more information at www.dd-rd.ca.



Haitian Congressmen travelled to St. Maarten to thank a local foundation for a generous donation to reconstruction efforts. Congressmen Noell Eliphete, Wilzie Vilceus and Wilbert Chatelier noted that the situation in Haiti was still not up to par. Vilceus explained that recovery in the country had been phased on three levels. Level one was emergency relief. Level two is the ongoing cleanup process. Vilceus said efforts were progressing slowly, as there was insufficient equipment to deal with the removal of sludge, which still occupies a majority of the dwellings in Haiti. Phase three is to re-establish the autonomy of the country, in terms of recovering day-to-day commerce. He said agriculture, livestock and plantations had been lost due to the hurricanes.



Food security remains a distant goal in Haiti that will require a coordinated approach by the Haitian government, the international community, the Diaspora, and other friends of Haiti.  Of course, all of us can play a role whether by raising awareness, funds, or giving our time to an organization based in the United States or Haiti.  As always, we are happy to help you find ways to help Haiti.



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