Aid groups fight to feed post-hurricane Haiti amid hunger crisis

Sailors and Marines attached to Joint Task Force (JTF) Matthew load food for delivery on October 18. (Credit: Official U.S. Navy Page/Flickr)

More than three months after Hurricane Matthew, Haiti is suffering one of the worst hunger crises in its recent history, with aid groups striving to restore food security for almost 1 million people.

The Category 4 hurricane, which hit the Caribbean country on Oct. 4, “wiped out 80 percent of crops, drowned most livestock, destroyed critical infrastructure and decimated the country’s breadbasket,” according to a statement from Oxfam earlier this month.

The destruction has driven up the cost of many locally grown foods like peas, bananas, limes and avocados at perhaps the worst possible time of year.

“November was supposed to be the harvest time, so you can imagine the devastation at that point,” Dominique Févry-Gilliand of Oxfam’s Haiti team, said in an interview with Humanosphere. “Also, normally the first harvest of the year is actually January and February. And since all the crops have been destroyed, there’s not going to be much to harvest.”

One third of poor households’ income comes from the sale of crops and small livestock. These are households that were already struggling to cope with the worst drought Haiti has seen in 15 years. Now, aid groups warn that some of the most poor are almost completely reliant of short-term relief for food, clean water and other basic necessities.

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According to an emergency food security assessment by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 806,000 people needed urgent food aid immediately after the hurricane.

Since the initial response, aid groups have distributed seeds to 16,000 households to replant lost crops. Two rounds off food distribution reached 1.1 million people. And in the hard-hit areas of Sud and Grand’Anse, the number of people receiving enough food is increasing.

The U.N. has requested $139 million from donor countries for these efforts, but Oxfam warned that the massive aid package remains 38 percent underfunded. The Haitian government and U.N. have also made a Flash Appeal for $21 million to provide food assistance to 800,000 people over three months, but they are 44 percent short of the goal.

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Aid workers say reaching these funding goals quickly is critical to stopping the worst food crisis Haiti has seen in recent history. Even the 7.0 magnitude earthquake of 2010 – which hit Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, killing hundreds of thousands of people – did not devastate such a large swath of the country’s breadbasket.

But even if the effort is fully funded, aid workers say it will take years for Haiti to recover. For longer-term relief, humanitarian organizations are calling on donors to fund the U.N.’s cholera response, which proposes building water and sanitation infrastructure over the next 10 to 15 years, as well as efforts toward reforestation, adapting to climate change and disaster mitigation.

Oxfam is one of several organizations also working to restore Haitians’ livelihoods by distributing seeds and improving access to microfinances, said Févry-Gilliand, “so that the economy can grow again … and so they can start their lives again.”

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau or email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org.