BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An estimated 1.5 million Haitians face hunger because of poor harvests and rising food prices, as the Caribbean nation continues to reel from a series of natural disasters, says the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP).
The cumulative impact of last year’s drought and hurricanes Isaac and Sandy, combined with a prolonged drought in the first three months of this year has resulted in poor harvests and food shortages, weakening Haiti’s already fragile food supply.
As a result, poor farming communities, particularly in northern and southern rural Haiti, are struggling to get back on their feet and do not have enough food to feed their families, the WFP says.
“We are very concerned that 1.5 million people in Haiti face severe food insecurity, which means they need food assistance and don’t have all the food they need for a full and active life,” Alejandro Lopez-Chicheri, WFP’s senior spokesperson for Latin America and the Caribbean, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Another 6.7 million people are struggling to meet their own food needs on a regular basis. Our main concern is children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.”
He said Haiti’s food crisis and levels of malnutrition are likely to get worse because a lack of rainfall and seeds has meant many farmers were unable to plant their food crops in mid-May.
“This harvest season in June and July is not expected to be a good one and will be below average, partly because of below average rainfall leading up to this harvest season, which accounts for 60 percent of Haiti’s annual food production,” Lopez-Chicheri said in a telephone interview from Panama City.
STAVING OFF HUNGER
Three-quarters of Haiti’s population of 10 million live on less than $2 a day and many Haitians spend the bulk of their income on food. Even a slight increase in food prices can leave hundreds of thousands of families too poor to buy enough food.
Along with the depreciation of the Haitian gourde, the price of staple foods such as rice, maize, sorghum, has fluctuated and risen by up to 30 percent over the past year, according to the Haitian government.
To stave off hunger, increasing numbers of poor families living in drought-affected areas are buying food on credit, selling immature livestock or cutting down trees for charcoal.
“Farmers are pushed to negative coping mechanisms such as selling charcoal, which affects Haiti’s fragile environment,” Lopez-Chicheri said.
For decades, Haiti has relied on international food aid and food imports to feed its population. Entrenched poverty, years of neglect of agriculture and disaster prevention in Haiti, coupled with the government’s failure to protect the environment, will exacerbate the impact of future natural disasters, such as floods and tropical storms, and the food shortages they bring, aid agencies say.
“Haiti is one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters in the Americas. It lies on the (Atlantic) hurricane belt,” Lopez-Chicheri said.
WFP and aid agencies are gearing up to mitigate the impact of possible hurricanes on Haiti's agricultural production ahead of this year’s hurricane season, which runs from June to November.
Emergency food supplies to cover the needs of 300,000 people for two days with ready-to-use food and for four weeks with staple food rations are already in place, WFP said.
With nearly 82,000 children under the age of five suffering from acute malnutrition, Haiti has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the Western Hemisphere.
WFP says this year it will provide food to 1.1 million Haitians - more than half of them children - through hot school meals, dry rations for schoolchildren to take home and food to treat malnutrition.