Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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June 01
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FEBRUARY 2, 2010 8:31PM

Haiti's next challenge

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  Haitian earthquake
Port-au-Prince following the January 12 earthquake

It is truly a wonder to observe how the world has opened its purse to the people of Haiti following the devastating January 12 earthquake that killed up to 200,000 people and has left hundreds of thousands homeless and destitute. What few of these benefactors realize, however, is that, in many ways, Haiti’s ordeal is only just beginning.

Haiti is a largely agricultural society. More than half of its population, i.e. somewhere between five and six million people, resides in rural areas, and eighty-five percent of them are involved in farming. Agriculture makes up around twenty-six percent of Haiti’s economic output. Haitian farmers were already rocked by back-to-back hurricanes in 2008. Most of these people have been surviving on less than $2 a day. Now that the earthquake has essentially wiped out Port-au-Prince and other urban areas, large numbers of people have been displaced to rural districts. Half a million have fled the capital alone. This has had a profound effect on local food resources. Even under “normal” conditions, one quarter of Haitian children are undernourished and a third of the total population suffers from chronic hunger. The mud pies of Haiti are symbolic of the country’s systematic underdevelopment. Since the earthquake, the situation has deteriorated beyond belief.

Haitian distribution chains and local markets have been profoundly disrupted. As Robin Duffleurant, a farmer in the devastated town of Leogane, said in an interview with IRIN, a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “We are trying to sell manioc to markets in the capital, but fewer people there are buying. Some markets were destroyed,” meaning that he has only been able to sell fifty packages of manioc per week instead of the usual 2,000. “Other than manioc, there is not much we can harvest now to sell... We are at the mercy of the ground and rains. And even if we could grow something, who is around to buy it?”

Faced with these challenges, it is uncertain whether Haitians will be in a position to plant their crops in the coming weeks. Even in the best of times the country grows only forty percent of its own food while exporting speciality crops such as vanilla, coffee etc. and importing rice and other staples from the USA and other countries. American farm subsidies and trade policies, which help flood Haitian and other Third World markets with cheap American foodstuffs at the expense of local production, are directly responsible for much of the misery Haiti is currently experiencing.


Haiti
Farming in Haiti

All in all, the earthquake could not have come at a worse time for Haiti. If it had struck five or more months ago, the country could have adjusted its needs and prepared for the planting season well in advance. As it is, it looks as if Haiti is about to suffer a second disaster in the form of an incomplete and otherwise failed harvest, which will only increase starvation and dependence on other countries.

In response to this challenge, Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development has asked for $700 million from the international community for a comprehensive agricultural makeover. These funds will go towards the cultivation of small gardens, sweet potato cultivation, supplies of seeds and tools to farmers, the repair of irrigation canals, and also road construction and other vital projects.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has allocated $23 million for the following measures:

  • rapidly restore food production capacity of affected households prior to the March 2010 planting season;
  • provide inputs for backyard garden production to affected urban and rural families;
  • rehabilitate critical production infrastructure, such as irrigation canals, food storage and processing facilities and small feeder roads; and
  • coordinate agricultural activities for the emergency response and recovery initiatives through leadership of the Agriculture Cluster.
Will this be enough? The earthquake’s destruction has been visible for all to see. The real threat is that the global awareness of the problems faced by this accursed country will soon fade away – as it always has before – leaving it once more to face the demons of poverty, chronic underdevelopment, egregious corruption, and First World exploitation all on its own. Even the briefest look at Haiti’s history will tell you this threat is far greater than any earthquake ever could be.

 

 

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Comments

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This is a huge concern, and a great post. I am on a tirade right now, because I feel that there are lots of US organizations popping up to 'help Haiti,' but really only hoping to get a fat slice of the emotional pie and line their pockets. These are real people in Haiti who farm, have children, and have a track record for pulling themselves up. Please give generously to orgs with a record of real assistance! xox
I know you do humanitarian service from your other past post. Thank you. The suffering makes fellow-humans grimace. Take care. It's sad work, but rewarding service, and it's beyond ... I'm becoming ... well, I'll pause,
and sigh.
I did earthquake relief in India's, Latur District (the RURAL villages near Killari), in 1993. An estimated 28, 000 people died then. It was barely news-covered. The quake was in Maharashtra State. IT was agriculture, poor, and I learned something? I was there for one month.
The rumor was `

that underground weapons were being tested. The Deccan Plateau rock formation,
rock vaults that
extends upward
to Nepal's mountains ... A Palestinian Physician insisted the Quake was manmade, and not a Natural disaster. The underground Rock broke, and the Earth shifted? The killing (stock profits) armaments-
the massive military budget etc., Thus, the cause and effect for the 4.6 seismic shacking?
I don't know. It was sad.
The saddest reality is:`
Millions ($) are stolen.
Victim are lucky to get:`
blankets, shoe flip-flop,
cooking fuel, stove, etc,.
Thanks for what you do.
great post....hopefully the American neolibs will keep their unsustainable, nation building, policies to themselves in all of this... after all thats why they were in such a big hole in the first place.... http://theactivist.org/blog/what-youre-not-hearing-about-haiti-but-should-be
Haiti's Food Surplus After the Earthquake

In this devastated country a food source "manioc" a starchy root vegetable lies unharvested in the ground because of lack of market demand.
This absurd occurence of non delivery of readily available food source for the masses is a perversion of the most ludicrous kind. Shame at the gutless self serving presence of non governmental and humanitarian aid organizations in Haiti. These organizations that are awash with international earthquake relief funds did not allocate the necessary funds and means of distribution of this vital commodity to the detriment of local farming community and the hunger ravaged earthquake victims.
Perhaps the Haitian government or the self concerned families of wealthy elites will finally come to their senses and support their countrymen in this time of crisis. Otherwise a scenario similar to Argentina's financial crisis will occur. Remember when the cost of delivery of essencial food supplies was greater than the payment for dairy products and farm commodities in the 1980's. The population starved and the financial capital escaped from Argentine's economy and landed in the land of greed and financial fever where an opportunity to plunder together with freedom from accountability during the high technology revolution yielded higher rate of return.