Ten years after the earthquake, and despite billions of dollars in assistance, hunger is a growing problem in Haiti. Food insecurity has been made worse by political instability and its root cause, corruption. Up to four million people are now facing severe hunger due to the downturn of an already weak economy and inflation. Hunger undermines nutrition, health, education, and stability, and economic development or, in other words, the future. Humanitarian responders like the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) can provide food to the most vulnerable - but they can't fix the underlying problems. This depends upon the Haitian people having an accountable, effective government that represents the interests of the many instead of the few. An article by Jassica Obert in The New Humanitarian about food insecurity in Haiti follows.
Last week, Trenton Daniel wrote an article highlighting malnutrition and hunger in Haiti’s neglected rural areas. Over the long term, the countryside needs agricultural modernization, better environmental management, and roads to move crops to regional markets. Haiti first has to make it through hurricane season which began May 1st. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) anticipates an above normal hurricane season with a 70 percent chance of 12 to 18 named storms, including 6 to 10 hurricanes. Storms put lives, crops, and infrastructure in Haiti at risk.
Plumpynut, a peanut based paste, has revolutionalized the way in which severely malnourished children around the world are treated. Many young lives have been saved as a result. There is now increasing attention on how Plumpynut variants can prevent children from becoming malnourished in the first place. In Haiti, both Meds and Food for Kids (MFK) and Partners in Health (PIH) produce products similar to Plumpynut. In the below New York Times article, Andrew Rice describes the promise, politics, and profitability of Plumpynut. Considering the negative impact that malnutrition has on the health and cognitive development of children in Haiti, it is well worth a read.
When people think of Haiti, they often think of hunger, and not without reason. Though there has been significant progress over the past year, hunger remains a pervasive problem. Achieving food security is fundamental to nutrition, health, education, economic growth, stability and all the other issues we lump under “development.” There are well intentioned groups, such as this one from Kansas, that often try to send packages of food to Haiti. It might make one feel good, but in reality, it does little good. There is much that we can do to promote food security in Haiti, but it is up to us to ensure that our time, energy, and resources make an actual, and not just a perceived, difference.
Haiti faced a number of challenges in 2009 including decreased remittances from the Diaspora as well as a messy transition at the Prime Ministerial level. All things considered though, Haiti enters 2010 stronger than it was at the beginning of 2009. The capacity of ministries to deliver basic services is improving and partnerships have been solidified with the United States, Canada, and a number of Latin American and European governments. Haiti has more investment opportunities than at any other time in the post-embargo era. The next challenge will be the February 2010 legislative elections, already controversial. Improving food security will undoubtedly be an important theme throughout the new year.
Hard to believe that just a year and a half ago, there were food riots in Port au Prince and other Haitian cities. Since then, Haiti has become become politically stable to the point where firms involved in agriculture, textiles, infrastructure development and tourism are considering investing in Haiti. Livelihood opportunities are sorely needed given that half of Haitians live on less than two dollars a day. Still, the majority of Haitians are small farmers. Without opportunities to provide for themselves and their families, the influx of the rural poor to urban centers will only accelerate. Increasing agricultural productivity/opportunities is key to improving food security in Haiti.
Dialogue concerning Haiti's development is changing. First, there is more discussion than ever before about Haiti's private sector, and a sense that trade will do more for Haiti in the long run than aid. Second, there is a growing emphasis on integrating Haiti economically and socially with the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America. Finally, donors are increasingly helping the Haitian government to address its own priorities. There are many challenges but also many possibilities. As Haitian say, little by little birds make their nests...
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. President Bill Clinton will visit Haiti March 9-10 to promote international aid for Haiti. According to UN Peacekeeping Chief Alain Le Roy, ''Clearly it's a fragile situation in Haiti. There are still lots of difficulties but we think Haiti is winnable." Also noteworthy is that a long awaited donor conference has been set for April 13-14 and will be chaired by the Inter American Development Bank. Expect food security to be an important part of these discussions.
What a year. The soaring costs of food and fuel, political unrest, and natural disasters prevented any real progress toward food security. The international community tunes in and tunes out to Haiti’s struggle to feed itself. For now, there is attention. Two of the main tasks of the Haitian government and civil society in 2009 will be to begin reversing environmental degradation and reinvigorating the Haitian agricultural system. The challenges remain daunting, but are not insurmountable. There is much that we, as friends of Haiti, can do for a better year in 2009.
Meds and Foods for Kids (MFK) was featured on a CNN Special Report today. The article described the ongoing struggle of Haitian mothers as they're forced to choose between life or death for their children. The short clip highlights MFK's effort to treat malnutrtion with Medika Mamba (or peanut butter medicine). Medika Mamba is a ready-to-use therapeutic food made of peanuts purchased from local Haitian farmers. In the CNN article, MFK Executive Director commented, "You realize how absolutely blessed you are by the fate of your soul coming down the chute in the United States of America. You wonder: Why did this happen to me and not to them?"You can access the CNN report by clicking here. The article can also be found below.