Haiti's hunger woes compounded by the unforgiving force of four hurricanes
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, already reeling from the food crisis, is slammed by floods from Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike.
By Jasmine Vendredi and Peter Warski, World Vision Communications
Fanny, 15, doesn't exert any energy during her short breaks at school. She needs to save it up to focus on her studies during class — a hard thing to do when her stomach has been empty for several days. Even during the lessons at school, her concern is focused mainly on whether there will be food in her house when she gets home. The prospects are usually grim: Her father earns a meager $20 per month, barely enough to provide a few days' worth of food for Fanny's seven-member family during that period of time.
Fanny's story is sadly reflective of a harsh reality facing most Haitian children — their families simply don't have the economic resources necessary to cover the rapidly rising cost of food. Following flooding from four powerful hurricanes there, however, the hunger situation is quickly devolving from bad to unbearable.
Adding insult to injury
"The only good news here is that Hurricane Ike's path was far enough north that Haiti did not take another direct hit," said Wesley Charles, World Vision's national director in Haiti, speaking of the fourth storm to strike the island country in less than a month. "But the rains from Ike have made it even more difficult for aid workers to get into some of the worst flooded areas. People are becoming increasingly desperate."
According to reports, some 10,000 people were crammed into 115 shelters in the beleaguered city of Gonaive following the passage of Ike, and only 10 of those shelters had food. In the region of Jean Denis, dirty floodwater worsened the situation for desperate families.
"Children played in the filthy water," said Steve Matthews, World Vision's emergency communications manager. "Women were washing clothes and dishes in overflowing streams. The farmland was absolutely drenched. Everything has become waterlogged, making it nearly impossible to cook, even for those who were able to salvage some of their rice."
Food crisis intensified
Even before the flooding, a stable food supply was out of reach to most Haitian families, like Fanny's. Spiraling global food prices — caused by a variety of factors, including fuel costs — have dealt devastation to this poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where many live on less than $2 per day. World Vision staff members there have worked tirelessly to save children teetering on the brink of starvation.
But the four recent hurricanes have delivered a near-knockout punch. "Bread is scarce and will soon be gone, and much of people's stored brown rice got wet when Hurricane Hanna went by," explained World Vision relief coordinator Elvire Douglas.
In partnership with other humanitarian agencies, World Vision is scaling up its relief efforts in Haiti following the flooding. The top priority is to reach affected families cut off by the hurricane damage and deliver emergency food aid and supplies to those who need it most. But additional resources are needed to effectively respond to such a critical situation.
Meanwhile, for children like Fanny across Haiti, the clock is ticking. Her exhaustion and physical harm at the hands of malnutrition are observable in her appearance.
"When we don't have the money to buy food, we just take a bath and go to bed, expecting what the following morning will bring," said Evana, Fanny's mother, who struggles to explain the problems facing her five children and husband. They're issues similar to what she faced as a child.
Certainly, Evana is one mother who doesn't want her children to face the same hardships as adults that she has. With conditions in Haiti as they are these days, she is likely one parent among many sharing that sentiment.