Caribbean News – Hunger adds to the plight of Haiti earthquake victims

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A member of the Haitian National Police (PNH) orders residents to line up to receive bags of rice and cooking oil at a World Food Program (WFP) distribution site in Port-Salut, Haiti. (Photographer: Jean Paul Saint Fleur / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

By Laura Gottesdiener

NAN KONSEY, Haiti, Tue Aug 31, 2021 (Reuters) – In a tent camp in the mountains of southern Haiti, where hundreds of villagers sought refuge after a powerful earthquake razed their homes this month, a single ear of charred corn was the only food in sight.

“I’m hungry and my baby is hungry,” said Sofonie Samedy, pointing to her pregnant belly.

Samedy had only eaten intermittently since the magnitude 7.2 earthquake of August 14 that destroyed much of Nan Konsey, a remote farming village not far from the epicenter. Across Haiti, the earthquake killed more than 2,000 people and left tens of thousands homeless.

In Nan Konsey, the convulsions of the earth tore the cement cisterns in the village used to store drinking water and triggered landslides that buried the inhabitants’ modest subsistence farms.

Since then, Samedy and the rest of the community have camped along the main road, about a 40-minute walk from their village, hoping to wave the rare truck over to ask for food and supplies. water.

“I’m praying that I can still give birth to a healthy baby, but of course I’m a little scared,” she said.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has long experienced one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world. Last year, Haiti ranked 104th out of 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index. In September, the United Nations said 4 million Haitians – 42% of the population – faced acute food insecurity.

This month’s earthquake exacerbated the crisis: destruction of crops and livestock, leveling of markets, contamination of rivers used as sources of drinking water and damage to bridges and roads essential to reach villages. like Nan Konsey.

The number of people in urgent need of food aid in the three departments hardest hit by the earthquake – Sud, Grand’Anse and Nippes – has increased by a third since the earthquake, from 138,000 to 215,000, according to the World Food Program. (PAM).

“The earthquake shook people who were already struggling to feed their families,” Lola Castro, WFP regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in a statement.

“The combined effects of multiple crises devastate communities in the south facing some of the highest levels of food insecurity in the country. “

“IN THE HANDS OF GOD”

Just off the highway to Nan Konsey, a few dozen men gathered at a goat market, where they sold their remaining cattle to get money to feed their children or to pay for members’ funerals. of the family.

Before the earthquake, farmer Michel Pierre had raised 15 goats and cultivated yams, potatoes, corn and bananas. He arrived at the market with the only two animals that survived the earthquake.

With his crops also buried under landslides, he hoped to earn around $ 100 from the sale to feed himself, his wife and children.

When that money runs out, he said, he is not sure what he will do. He’s still in debt since Hurricane Matthew ravaged Haiti in 2016.

“Day by day it becomes more and more difficult to be a farmer,” he said. “I am in the hands of God.

Haiti was largely food self-sufficient until the 1980s, when, spurred on by the United States, it began to ease restrictions on crop imports and lower tariffs. A subsequent influx of surplus American crops bankrupted masses of Haitian farmers and contributed to the decline in investment in the sector.

In recent years, climate change has made Hispaniola – the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic – increasingly vulnerable to extreme droughts and hurricanes. Soaring food prices, economic decline and political instability have compounded the shortages.

For Gethro Polyte, a teacher and farmer living north of the town of Camp-Perrin, the earthquake decimated his two main sources of income: razing the school where he taught in fourth grade and submerging his crops and livestock in an avalanche. earthen.

Before the disaster, he and his family were able to prepare two meals a day and draw water from underground sources, he said. But since then her food reserves have dwindled to a few yams and bananas, and the water has been contaminated with silt.

Polyte doubted the school would be rebuilt for classes to start in September and for him to receive a salary, given the chaos that followed the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July. And with bank loans yet to be repaid, he doubted he could get the money to invest in rebuilding his farm.

“We are now living by eating a little something just to kill hunger,” he said. “And, of course, things will only get worse in the next few days.”

(Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Haiti, additional reporting by Ricardo Arduengo and Herbert Villarraga in Haiti Editing by Daniel Flynn and Rosalba O’Brien)


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