Haïti : after Sandy, civil society has mobilised to deal with the problem

On the 24 october, hurricane Sandy provoked 3 days of violent rain and tornados. Rivers burst their banks, causing severe flooding. Whilst New York was in the spotlight, Haïti’s plight went unnoticed in the news. The damage was severe on all levels.

Sandy : the toll

Human losses were severe : 54 deaths, around 20 people disappeared, and 1,6 million people affected. Material damage was huge, estimated at 5 million euros, according to the latest reports by Haïtian emergency services. Without a doubt, the damage to farming is the most severe. According to a representative from the Department of Agriculture, the hurricane destroyed 70% of all crops in Southern Haïti.

Food security is threatened

The hurricane occurred in the middle of the harvest season, depriving many families of their resources. Food was already scarce before the heavy rains: according to a report by Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, Director of MPP, the rainy season started very early in some regions, whereas drought struck in the North and North-East. Farmers were unable to plant rice, beans and maize, and crops like banana, yam and manioc all perished. "People suffered from hunger in communes like Acul, which is normally extremely fertile", he said. This naturally had severe consequences on prices : according to Garry Mathieu, Director of the National Food Security Council (CNSA), "over the next days, there will be a reduction in local food availability, which will lead to a price rise of basic foodstuffs" In 2012, farming has been severely affected by drought or flooding. Families are decapitalised, most of them cannot buy seeds to restart their farms for the neext planting season, which begins in November and December.

What is the government doing?

Compensation initiatives have been set up: seeds will be distributed to farmers, and a grant for ploughing and dredging of irrigation systems has been proposed. Programmes for local purchasing have also been set up by the Ministry for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development (Marndr), with a view to enabling the circulation of national foodstuffs, and thus the controlling of prices. The Minister explained that talks are being held with various partners, to maintain the price of food at a satisfactory level nationwide. But in-depth solutions are lacking: according to Thomas Jacques of the Marndr, "one of the weaknesses of our system is the absence of a agricultural insurance policy ", making any aid to farmers difficult to calculate.

Change is in the hands of civil society

MPP’s actions aim to create environmentally safe farming and a better control of farming techniques. After the earthquake in 2010, many city-dwellers migrated to the countryside : 150 000 victims came from Port-au-Prince and the MPP helped them. They were taken care of by the community, and benefitted from farming methods which had been set up. According to Caroline Albenesius, a volonteer with Frères des Hommes, the region of Plateau Central was spared. Other than heavy rainfall, which was in fact beneficial to crops, the hurricane did not strike this region. However, this is the occasion to emphasize the importance of the role of civil society and of the attention that must be paid to the problems of water and erosion, to limit the consequences of this phenomenon. Once again, Jean-Baptiste Chavannes, called upon by peasant organisations, provided a global assessment of the consequences of the catastrophe, in order to make an appeal for emergency aid. This aid will go mainly towards restarting farming (crops and animals) particularly in the West, South and in Grande Anse, and more generally in the whole country. Over the next few days, Frères des Hommes will respond to this appeal and provide support for the MPP by launching a public appeal for funds.

In the longer term... MPP recommends :
Total land reform ;
A permanent programme to restore and protect the environment;
A massive reforestation programme as part of an agro-forestry plan [1];
A national planning programme;
A permanent construction programme for farming infrastructures.

[1Agroforestry : using land simultaneously or successively for crops and trees

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