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Haiti needs food, not casinos

 InDepth News 19 May 2019

(Originally published: 02/2010) “In Haiti, there is anguish that seems too much to bear; A land so used to sorrow now knows even more despair.” One month after a severe earthquake devastated the impoverished Caribbean island nation on January 12, the first verse from a lyric written shortly after the catastrophe echoes the persistent agony of the Haitians. (1767 words) - Gertrud Lapola

ROME, Italy - "In Haiti, there is anguish that seems too much to bear; A land so used to sorrow now knows even more despair."

One month after a severe earthquake devastated the impoverished Caribbean island nation on January 12, the first verse from a lyric written shortly after the catastrophe echoes the persistent agony of the Haitians.

Live radio and television coverage from Port au Prince and other parts of the country was heart-rending. Stories told by some who managed to escape death aroused compassion.

Inundated in an emotional hype, only a few asked what was Haiti like before the January 12 earthquake. What prevented Haitians known for their resilience to build up a country in which they would stand on their feet? Where will Haiti be after it returns to normalcy? What kind of a normalcy will it be?

These questions persist -- with gripping logic.

All the more so as Haiti, as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been plagued by political violence for most of its history. Besides, 80 percent of the population is living under the poverty line and 54 percent on the razor-edge of poverty with less than two dollars a day.

Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country's widespread deforestation.

"As Haiti starts to rebuild, its people need a lot of things: new homes, jobs, investment in agriculture, infrastructure, and a real voice in the rebuilding process," says Peter O'Driscoll, Executive Director of ActionAid USA.

"But if the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) leads the reconstruction -- here's what they could get instead: Casinos. Expensive hotels. The most valuable property snatched from poor families and turned over to affluent companies," warns O'Driscoll.

Key decisions made in the next few weeks will determine what kind of reconstruction comes to Haiti. That's why ActionAid is asking people to sign a "petition to President Obama right now urging him to make sure the United Nations leads the rebuilding effort in Haiti -- NOT the IMF or the World Bank".

The World Bank and the IMF have both consistently championed development and reconstruction policies that deprive poor people of their homes and livelihoods while simultaneously driving their governments deeper into debt.

"We saw just how damaging their approach to reconstruction could be in Sri Lanka. After the Tsunami hit in December 2004, funds that originally came from the World Bank forced thousands of poor people off their coastal lands, put women and children in harm's way, and left them even more vulnerable to future disasters by destroying natural barriers to floods," recalls O'Driscoll.

"We can't let this happen again: please add your name now to our petition to President Obama urging him to only support a UN-led reconstruction effort in Haiti," he pleads with millions of people around the world who have displayed commiseration for Haitians on some of their painful moments.


TRUE PARTNERSHIP

ActionAid has been partnering with poor people's organizations in Haiti since 1996. "We believe that only through true partnership with the poorest populations will we be able to solve world hunger and poverty. Those organisations must have a seat at the table when decisions are made about reconstruction spending and priorities."

Haiti's government was weak to begin with. It has now been further weakened by the earthquake. The international community must therefore work especially hard to guarantee that the interests of ordinary Haitians are first and foremost in the reconstruction debate, at a time when their government can barely represent them, argues ActionAid.

"We must challenge the age-old prejudices that leave millions of poor people without a voice in the democratic process, and without the means to lift themselves out of poverty."

Stressing the vital role of farming in rebuilding Haiti, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, leading international efforts to defeat hunger, has expressed alarm at the lack of support for Haiti's immediate agricultural needs.

Speaking at a high-level meeting February 12 in Rome to coordinate the UN Rome-based food agencies' efforts on behalf of Haiti's medium and long-term recovery, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said: "At a time when Haiti is facing a major food crisis we are alarmed at the lack of support to the agricultural component of the (United Nation's) Flash Appeal."

The 575 million U.S. dollar appeal called for 23 million dollar for Haiti's immediate agricultural needs. "But only eight percent of this sum has so far been funded," Diouf disclosed. "The economic and social reconstruction of Haiti requires a revival of food production and massive investment in rural areas," he said.

Right now, he continued, "the immediate priority is support for the farm season that begins in March and accounts for more than 60 percent of the country's food production".

FAO has started to distribute seeds, fertilizer and tools to enable Haitian farmers to plant for the next harvest. Planted now, horticultural produce would be ready in only three months to provide beneficiaries and their communities with nutritious food for several months, the FAO Director-General said.


MASSIVE ASSISTANCE

Looking further ahead, he noted that a multidisciplinary team of FAO's top experts was about to leave Rome for Haiti to help the Agriculture Ministry formulate a medium and long-term agricultural recovery programme.

"The Republic of Haiti will be requiring massive sustained international assistance for a long period in order to ... bring about sustainable growth that will dramatically reduce hunger and poverty," he declared. This would require the UN's Rome-based Agencies to better coordinate their efforts and to develop existing synergies.

"In this spirit of enhanced collaboration, I propose the creation of a Tripartite Task-Force grouping FAO, WFP and IFAD ... to support the Government of Haiti in its efforts to revive its agricultural sector," he added.

Before the earthquake, the 49 million dollar programme implemented by FAO in support of the Haitian Government covered a whole range of expertise which the organisation offers in serving its member countries.

Other participants at the High-Level Meeting included Haiti's Agriculture Minister Joanas Gue, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran and IFAD President Kanayo Nwanze.

In an interview with IDN, Nwanze said an IFAD mission had confirmed "what we had feared: that there had been serious damage to Haiti's productive infrastructure in major agricultural areas in the southern parts of Haiti". The most affected areas include Gressier, Léogane, Petit-Goave and Grand-Goave in the West Department.

IFAD field mission learnt about damage to rural houses; damage to potable water supplies; damage to irrigation systems; and damage to rural roads and storage facilities. It was also told of severe losses in seeds, agricultural tools and small animals, with dire consequences for the poor rural people whose livelihoods depend on farming.

"We also witnessed the ongoing mass migration of the now homeless residents of Port-au-Prince to their families and friends living in Haiti's rural hinterland," Nwanze said.

Preliminary estimates suggest that more than 260,000 people have fled or are fleeing the destroyed capital, increasing the pressure on already meagre supplies of food and employment in the countryside.


IFAD HELPS

Nwanze said: "In collaboration with FAO and with the agreement of the Government of Haiti, we will extend the IFAD-funded 2008 post-food crisis programme for the distribution of seeds and agricultural tools. This programme, amounting to 10 million dollars, will cover the needs of 15,000 rural households, representing 75,000 people. Importantly, it will help ensure that essential seeds and agricultural tools are available for the March and June planting seasons.

"The food situation in Haiti was already very fragile before the earthquake and Haiti was highly dependent on food imports," said Alexander Jones, FAO Emergencies Response Manager in Haiti.

"With people moving back to the rural areas, growth in Haiti's agricultural sector is now an urgent priority and the Haitian government's plan does a very good job of laying down the immediate priorities," said Jones.

On January 29 FAO urged international donors to support a 700 million dollar investment plan in the agricultural sector drawn up by the Haitian government to repair earthquake damaged infrastructure, boost national food production and create employment for people fleeing Port-au-Prince.

The special programme, drawn up by Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development gives specific guidelines for international aid in the sector for the next eighteen months. It is one of the cornerstones of the government's strategy to rebuild the country following the January 12 earthquake.

FAO -- leading the UN and NGO partners "cluster" (coordination group) in agriculture -- and the Inter-American Institute for Agriculture Cooperation signed an agreement with the Ministry to support the government's plan.

A meeting held in the Dominican Republic on January 27 was attended by Joanas Gué, the Haitian Minister of Agriculture and his counterpart in the Dominican Republic, Salvador Jimenez and representatives of international aid organisations.

The Haitian government estimates in its blueprint that around 32 million dollar is needed now to buy urgent seeds, tools and fertilisers for farmers so that they can begin planting in March for the spring planting season which usually accounts for 60 percent of the country's agricultural production.

Other short-term actions envisaged by the plan include the repair of the quake-damaged Darbonne sugar refinery near Léogane, protection of watersheds, reforestation, the rebuilding and reinforcing of collapsed riverbanks and damaged irrigation channels and the rehabilitation of 600 kilometres of feeder roads.

The government has also recommended the acquisition of thousands of tonnes of cereal, pulses and vegetable seeds, produced domestically and abroad, tools and fertilisers and support to the livestock sector for an eighteen month period.

Other priorities include the re-launch of a programme to encourage the planting of nutritious sweet potatoes in all 10 of Haiti's administrative departments and the building of storage facilities to stock food and grain to prepare the country for the upcoming hurricane season.


BACKGROUND

The native Taino Amerindians -- who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by Columbus in 1492 -- were virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years.

In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola. In 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation.

In the late 18th century, Haiti's nearly half million slaves revolted under Toussaint L'Ouverture. After a prolonged struggle, Haiti became the first black republic to declare independence in 1804.

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