Haiti disaster prompts food industry focus

by Morton Sosland
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Rarely has the industry been witness to a catastrophe on a par with what has been happening in Haiti since the earthquake struck that country less than a month ago, on January 12. A natural disaster that killed more than 200,000, that left 2 million people homeless and meant that 3 million, a third of the country’s population, were seriously affected in unimaginable ways created problems of a dimension almost without precedent in the Western Hemisphere. National governments, led by the United States, as well international organizations like the World Food Programme of the United Nations and major non-governmental organizations have all stepped forward to help. On top of the urgent need for food and water to avoid starvation, assistance came mainly in the form of medical aid and shelter as well as security personnel to maintain law and order.

Individual food companies have provided significant dollar assistance, which this close to the disaster itself was the primary relief required. Companies that have been participants in what had been an important and growing food market naturally were in the forefront. Hardly anything could be more positive than the efforts undertaken to rebuild or to repair damaged plants and infrastructure that were essential to the Haitian economy before disaster struck. Nothing was more positive for restoration than the undertakings of involved corporations to do everything possible to assure revival of local food manufacturing and distribution.

Such a calamity occurring relatively close to America’s shores also helped to emphasize the vulnerability of food processing and marketing to calamities caused by nature as well as those resulting from the ongoing battle against global terrorism. It is in preparing for any attack that national security programs emphasize preventing damage to the domestic food supply, in production and processing as well as in transportation and delivery. While Haiti was a very poor country, albeit one seemingly registering modest economic gains prior to last month’s disaster, it would be unfair to warn of similar events striking in a developed nation like the United States. Yet, hunger, lack of water, poor sanitation and all the other

horrors that prevailed in Haiti due to the earthquake are definitely not out of the question in a nation like America.

The decision by President Obama to name two of his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to lead national efforts to raise funds in support of Haitian recovery reminded of an earlier time when Herbert Hoover, then a civil engineer, agreed initially to help Americans trapped in Europe by World War I to return home. This led to Mr. Hoover directing a food relief undertaking for Europeans that is still regarded as one of the food industry’s finest hours. The industry set a sterling example by stepping forward to

supply assistance to millions of people in Europe who were hungry as the result of war. When America entered the conflict, Mr. Hoover became head of the War Food Administration, declaring, “Food will win the war.” His success, which was credited in large part to the role that the food industry played in supporting relief, provided the impetus to his being elected president in 1928.

While the current time is very different from what was happening in the Hoover era, the food industry must not neglect or downplay the role it ought to assume in helping millions of people in Haiti recover some normalcy in their lives. No one who has read or watched the horrors of what has been occurring in Haiti may neglect the tragedy’s dimensions. Just how, when and where participation may be undertaken is still undetermined. Yet, it is apparent that the food industry, comprising the responsible companies who have had a presence in Haiti and those that stand ready to help, are once again ready to make this one of the industry’s great moments.

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