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.
With the Prime Minister of Haiti having been voted out as a result of the recent food riots, expect biofuels to get put on the backburner for a while – at least as far as the government is concerned. The new Prime Minister will need to assemble a new Cabinet and we hope that the Ministers of Finance, Agriculture, and Energy will all take a close look at the potential of biofuels. In the meantime, the non-governmental organizations keep working away. A successful war on poverty in Haiti must be fought on different fronts at the same time, chief of which are food security and energy independence.
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.
Protests, tire burnings, clay biscuits and/or questionable studies on HIV/AIDS are what it usually takes for Haiti to make the news. When reporters do visit Haiti, they rarely make it outside of Port au Prince. I was pleased to come across "Assignment Haiti" with Calvin Hughes (Local 10 News in Miami.) The report captures both the scope of the challenges facing Haiti as well as the country's tremendous potential. The fundamental question asked is whether there is hope for a New Day in Haiti. After you watch this piece, we think you will agree that there is.
Every county has a Diaspora. The governments of some countries such as El Salvador actively encourage their Diaspora to participate in the country by voting, investing, and applying (or runnning for) government positions. Haiti is behind the curve in this respect. However, the Haitian Diaspora has knowledge, skills, and resources with which to make a difference. The Internet is an excellent way to engage them. An entrepeunerial individual from Thomonde where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer has created Thomonde.com. It could be a model for other Diaspora communities.
Former Central Plateau Resident, Professional Archaeologist, and Peace Corps Colleague Dan Broockmann sent in the following story about latrine usage in Maissade. 2008 has been designated the year of sanitation and latrines are important for public health. Every Haitian family would like to have one but the cost is prohibitive for many. And as Dan writes, even latrines need maintenance eventually...
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.
We get quite a few emails from young people with a week or two off of school who would like to volunteer in Haiti. Without knowing Kreyol or having special skills, opportunities are somewhat limited but they are out there. Through volunteering you can learn about the country, its culture, and develop an awareness of the developmental challenges, and just as important, how to addresss them. When you come back, that's when the hard work starts. You may well find that you can do more for Haiti stateside.
I expected to hear of food riots in Haiti. Life has never been easy for Haitians but escalating food costs have made just getting by more and more difficult. If you and I went a day without eating and did not know if the next day let alone the next week would bring more of the same, I would not be writing this and you would not be reading this - we would be out in the streets protesting!