Study: Widespread hunger in Haiti after storms

AP News
Posted: Dec 07, 2012 3:13 PM
Study: Widespread hunger in Haiti after storms

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haitians have suffered widespread hunger following an unusually active storm season this year and are likely to experience more, according to a study released Friday.

The report, backed by a Rio de Janeiro, Brazil-based think tank, found that rural households in the heavily hit areas of Haiti's west, north and Grand-Anse departments experienced what it termed "severe food shortages" after Hurricane Sandy and an unnamed storm that followed. The two merely brushed the Caribbean nation in October and November but caused major flooding and killed as many as 66 people.

Nearly 70 percent of the more than 1,000 households interviewed said they experienced moderate or severe hunger, according to the study, "After the Storm: Haiti's Coming Food Crisis."

The report was written by social scientists Athena Kolbe, Marie Puccio and Robert Muggah, who frequently work in the impoverished country. It echoes U.N. warnings that more than 1.5 million of Haiti's people are at risk of malnutrition because they lost crops in the storms. As much as 90 percent of Haiti's harvest season, much of it in the south, was destroyed in Sandy's floods, the world body said.

"We look at all these things and expect to see there's going to be food insecurity in six months," said Kolbe, a doctoral candidate in social work and political science at University of Michigan. "There are going to be a lot of areas where there is not a lot food and we know what happens when there's not a lot of food."

Added Kolbe: "It's pretty bleak."

Kolbe and humanitarian workers fear Haiti could see a repeat of what happened in 2008. That year, a jump in food prices triggered more than a week of deadly rioting that ended in the ouster of the prime minister and his Cabinet.

In recent months, anti-government demonstrations have taken place in the capital and countryside. The protesters have aired grievances that range from alleged corruption in the administration of President Michel Martelly to a rising cost of living.

Backed by the Brazilian nonprofit think tank, the Igarape Institute, the study drew on data from 1,355 households, with a response rate of 84.7 percent. The surveys were done immediately after Hurricane Sandy and the unnamed storm that followed.

In all cases an adult living in the household was randomly chosen, based on which member had the most recent birthday, to complete the survey.

Those interviewed reported a wide range of damages and losses. Farmers lost plenty, with 68.3 percent reporting their crops destroyed, 77.3 percent losing seeds and 73 percent the loss of farming equipment and tools.

Such damage will force Haiti to import food from outside, which is often expensive, the study's authors noted.

Help from family and friends abroad who wired money stemmed the spread of additional hunger, the report said. Households that received overseas remittances in the last 12 months were 8.1 times less likely to go hungry after the storm, it added.

Crops such as sorghum, millet and cassava plants were the most likely crops to survive the storm, farmers said. But crops that are fragile were partially or completely destroyed, including beans, peas, carrots and beets.

The study also said people in the countryside reported a "complete absence" of municipal services during the week after the hurricane. That meant no debris removal or contact with police and other government employee.