Urgent start to a long haul in Haiti

by Jay Sjerven
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The Commodity Credit Corp. during the past couple of weeks purchased by direct negotiation or by means of urgent tenders rice, flour, dry beans and cooking oil for shipment to Haiti or to rebuild stocks held in prepositioning facilities in the United States that were drawn down as part of the response to Haiti’s dire food needs.

The United Nations World Food Program indicated before the earthquake 76% of Haitians lived on less than $2 a day, and 56% lived on less than $1 a day. Haiti was a food deficit country long before the calamity. The W.F.P. estimated about 48% of the nation’s food was imported in recent years, 47% was produced locally and food assistance filled 5% of the nation’s food needs.

Food assistance required by Haiti from year to year was closely tied to occurrence of natural disasters such as hurricanes. The amount of world food aid shipped to Haiti trended lower from 2005 through 2007, but during the 2008 hurricane season, storms devastated the country’s corn, bean and banana harvests and damaged most roads, bridges and other infrastructure. At some point in 2008, an estimated 3.3 million of the nation’s inhabitants relied on emergency food assistance. Total food aid to Haiti surged to 180,384 tonnes in 2008 compared with 107,390 tonnes in 2007; emergency food assistance (aid not tied to ongoing development projects or programs) spiked to 66,933 tonnes from 10,751 tonnes.

The need for emergency food assistance for Haiti is far more urgent today than following any hurricane. Recovery will be long and will test the world’s commitment.

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