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Haiti’s Food Crisis: A Threat to Stability and Progress

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Though it once had a booming tourism industry, the poorest nation in the Americas sees few visitors today. Haiti’s negative image as a criminal haven has kept all but a few visitors away from the impoverished island nation despite UN data that suggests Haiti is no more dangerous than any other Latin American country. In fact, the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince is no more violent than any other large city. Last year, for example, the UN recorded nine times as many homicides in Jamaica than in Haiti. Nevertheless, even the advances made toward security in Haiti by the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH, have not yet entirely stabilized the country. The modest progress may soon be undone by the food crisis that, in recent months, has hit Haiti extremely hard.

Lack of access to food at an affordable price and slowed production have caused riots and protests in many Latin American countries, including large agricultural-producing states such as Mexico and Argentina. Meanwhile, in Haiti, where eighty percent of the population already lives on less than two US dollars per day (mainly from overseas contributors), some survive by eating mud cakes made of clay and vegetable oil. As a result, many Haitians attempt to flee to Florida on exceedingly dangerous boat voyages of up to 500 miles that have cost several thousand lives. This has created an international issue, and the U.S. Coast Guard has had to up its vigilance even further.

In May, the U.S. created a food task force comprised of USAID and U.S. State Department officials focused on income-generating programs to enable Haiti’s poor to feed themselves. USAID announced an increase in emergency funds to Haiti, bringing the total to US$45 million. In addition to providing immediate relief to Haitians, the aid will assist in long-term “Food for Work” projects. In return for food, Haitians will rebuild roads and irrigation systems and improve land-use practices to boost crop production. These projects will both feed the hungry and expand much-needed infrastructure.

A major riot in April over high food prices led to several deaths and the forced resignation of Haiti’s prime minister, Jacques-Édouard Alexis. Haitian lawmakers have since rejected both President René Préval’s nominees for prime minister. But there may be hope for Haiti yet; President Préval announced the nomination of economist Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis for prime minister, whose appointment could provide much-needed stability to the country. Additionally, the IMF has approved further aid to help the nation cope with its soaring food and fuel prices, and the World Bank has allocated a grant of US$10 million. However, while the international aid may be a short-term solution to the food crisis in Haiti, it cannot guarantee increased stability in the long run. The Haitian government must appoint a new prime minister to ensure that hard-earned efforts being made toward stability and progress are not in vain.