We are pleased to feature guest writer, Mehmet Burk, the senior writer for Melting Glacier Analytics, which analyzes emerging international disasters and unique humanitarian initiatives. He also has written for has written for Monthly Developments Magazine, EurasiaNet, Environmental Graffiti, and on InterAction.org.
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By Mehmet Burk, Melting Glacier Analytics
Before Hurricane Sandy made its fateful journey up the east coast of the United States and morphed into a “Super Storm” spanning from Bermuda to Chicago to the Arctic Circle, Sandy ravaged Haiti and Cuba in the Caribbean. In Haiti, Sandy dumped over 20 inches of rain from October 23-26, claimed over 50 lives, tested those still displaced from the 2010 earthquake mega disaster, and potentially catalyzed another deadly cholera outbreak.
The damage Sandy brought to Haiti will be felt for months to come in the agricultural sector. Crops such as bananas, pigeon peas, and yams were completely destroyed in towns such as Petit-Goave—a bread basket that helped Haiti’s southern peninsula brave severe drought and Hurricane Isaac this summer. Southern Haiti’s largest city, Les Cayes, suffered a 70 percent loss of avocado, breadfruit, and corn harvests. Staples such as plantain, maize, and sugar cane were also decimated throughout the Haitian countryside. Sandy has crippled both local food consumption, small scale agribusiness, and the local cash crop economy. Agricultural infrastructure, fisheries, and precious topsoil were all washed away by Sandy’s flooding and winds.
The result of Haiti’s plight is plainly summarized by Kechner Tousaint, the mayor of the rural city of Abricots in an interview to the New York Times—“We’ll have famine in the coming days. It’s an agricultural disaster.”
Indeed, the scale of Haiti’s burgeoning food crisis is almost hard to conceive. The United Nations Office for the Coordination Affairs estimates that 1.5 million people are living in a state of “severe food insecurity” following Sandy’s impact, with 450,000 people and 4,000 children at risk for severe malnutrition. The Haitian Government and the Food and Agricultural Organization is seeking $74 million USD over the next year with some funded targeted towards 20,000 high risk families who need assistance through December’s cropping season.
In an urgent appeal from the NGO Action Aid, Haiti Country Director Jean Claude Fignole stated that “Crops like corn, rice and coffee that provided food and cash for at least 50% of families in Haiti are now rotting in fields all over the southern coast. As if this wasn’t enough, Sandy left behind an even more sinister legacy that threatens to wreak havoc in the coming months. Policy makers, donors and humanitarian agencies must act now to prevent a hunger crisis of potentially catastrophic proportions.”
Unusual rain patterns resulting in dry spells and flash floods have created tapestry of crop failures across the Haitian countryside year. Some areas suffered from a crippling drought, others endured Hurricane Isaac in August (which caused a spike in food prices), while still others were pounded by Hurricane Sandy. Since Sandy, a fourth disaster has struck Haiti—flash flooding from a rogue cold front claimed 16 lives during November 11-13 and caused severe crop damage to Haiti’s northern region.
If unusual dry spells punctuated by extreme flooding sounds suspiciously like climate change, consider this: Haiti was strongly shaken by the uptick in global food prices, driven in large part to the US drought this summer. The US drought was an event that some have connected to a weaker jet stream caused by record low arctic sea ice, and climate change on a global scale.At the national level, Haiti’s overall ecological vulnerabilities are summarized wonderfully in an analysis by the NGO, the Lambi Fund of Haiti. A legacy of colonization, extreme poverty, deforestation, unbeneficial agricultural practices, and minimal floodplain management has caused structural issues that hinder agricultural resilience. As the article’s author, Josette Perard so poignantly states, “Today, 36,000 tons of soil that would otherwise be secured by the roots of trees is being hauled off by water each year – this is the equivalent of 9,300 acres. This is purely arable land that could produce food that is being lost… It is incredibly painful to watch the soil washed away during the rainy season, disappearing into the sea.”
Supporting the Victims of Sandy’s Agricultural Devastation
There are several local and international NGO’s as well as international organizations responding to Haiti’s looming food crisis.
- The UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s emergency operations have information on the latest donation efforts. The FAO is extremely active on Twitter (@FAOemergencies) and frequently post photos from their in-country team. FAO content is powerful, especially when contributing the Haiti perspective to international Sandy coverage through social media or other channels.
- The Lambi Fund of Haiti is currently working extensively with local farmers to replant crops lost from Sandy. The Lambi Fund offers a variety of innovative ways to provide assistance—including gift donation packages that provide seeds to farmers, seedlings to combat deforestation, as well as goats, sheep, pigs, and fishing equipment.
- Fonkoze is a nationally-based banking network that supports microenterprise initiatives for rural poor in Haiti—predominately women. Fonkoze is heavily engaged in Sandy recovery, including catastrophic micro insurance payouts to support women in their recover both domestically and in business ventures via rurally-based microenterprise initiatives.
- Heifer International is providing disaster food kits to families in rural Haiti, and is scoping long term replanting and livestock replacement efforts. Heifer International-supported families were hit especially hard by Sandy—611 Heifer animals perished, including goats, sheep, and fowl.
- ActionAid has an urgent appeal to support its response and recovery programs in Haiti, and is fully engaged in the agricultural sector. Operations may need to be scaled down if new sources of funding are not secured.
- The Haiti Red Cross has an open appeal to combat the deteriorating post-Sandy food security situation, including “a one-year program aimed at 22 communes. [A] food supply component will provide food to 10,000 families. The food security component will help 66 associations (18 fishermen’s associations, 24 farmers associations and 24 women associations) through technical training, support during the spring agricultural cycle, advice on diet and nutrition, as well as the distribution of tools, seeds and livestock.”
[Sources: The Miami Herald/Kansas City.com, New York Times, UN OCHA/ReliefWeb, UN Food and Agricultural Organization, ActionAid/Reuter’s AlertNet, Environmental Graffiti, US AID/Famine Early Warning System, Melting Glacier Analytics/Relief Analysis Wire, the Lambi Fund of Haiti, Fonkoze, Heifer International, Haiti Red Cross]