Mr. Bauer believes Haiti is facing an unprecedented crisis that could get worse. For this reason, he says, there is no time to lose.
“It’s hard to believe that just a two-hour flight from Miami, a staggering 4.7 million people – half the population of Haiti – are affected by a food crisis. In the Cité Soleil district of Port-au-Prince, 19,000 people suffer at the “disaster” level on a global scale to measure food insecurity.
In the 1980s I often visited Haiti on family trips; My mother fled to the United States in the 1960s and I grew up in suburban Washington, DC. The country was very poor at the time, but could feed itself. Now, as I witness his struggle and coordinate the World Food Program’s response, I cannot deny that I am touched on a deeply personal level.
I speak Creole. I grew up eating Djon Djon rice and Joumou soup. I have always been very aware of Haiti’s rich history.
UNDP Haiti/Borja Lopetegui Gonzalez
“A Series of Disasters”
The 1990s saw a series of coups and a trade embargo; People risked their lives to leave by boats. Free market policies ruined Haiti’s small farmers and made the country heavily dependent on food imports. A series of disasters followed, including the 2010 earthquake and cholera outbreak, Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and the 2021 southern earthquake.
Things are at a breaking point now. This crisis will not pass – it needs renewed and robust humanitarian assistance.
I’m often asked why it’s actually so bad being so close to my family’s adopted home. I reply that Haiti is starving because gangs have taken control of ports and roads. This cut communities off from both the farms that feed them and basic humanitarian assistance. Over the past year, food and fuel prices have skyrocketed.
© UNICEF/Roger LeMoyne and US CDC
A country brought to a standstill
Protests and widespread looting erupted in September. Roadblocks brought the country to a standstill in what Haitians call the Peyi Lok (lockdown). The Peyi-Lok that began on September 12 felt very similar to the Peyi-Lok that took place around the world in the early months of the Covid pandemic – except that people are now being driven by fear and violence rather than a dangerous disease were forced to stay at home.
Armed groups had seized the main fuel import terminal and blocked the flow of diesel, the lifeblood of the economy. Humanitarian workers have also been attacked; Two of WFP’s warehouses were ransacked, depriving thousands of essential food aid. For WFP staff, getting to the office meant overcoming roadblocks and defying threats.
Panic buying broke out during the Peyi-Lok. Supermarket shelves were getting thinner and thinner as the days went by. I recently met a group of women in Cité Soleil waiting for much-needed food from WFP. They said it was hard to get jobs and they just couldn’t afford to buy the groceries they need. They drank rainwater, they said. For dinner they sometimes boil water and add salt because there is simply nothing else to eat. As we talked, shots rang out and bullets flew overhead. Unfortunately, the people of Haiti are used to violence and hunger.
With this in mind, WFP and its partners have provided food to over 1 million Haitians this year – including over 100,000 people since the lockdown. The only safe way to get to Port-au-Prince is by plane. The WFP-managed UN Humanitarian Air Service has helped carry vital cargo to help fight cholera. But while emergency rations and airlifts keep people alive, they offer no future.
Armed groups are no longer in control of the Varreux fuel terminal, but still hold parts of the town. Their stranglehold on Haitian society must end. The UN sanctions imposed on those who support them are a step in the right direction. But humanitarian work in Haiti needs a change of course.
WFP Haiti/Theresa Piorr
Help Haiti feed its people
Above all, we must help Haitian farmers to feed their own people. WFP works with 75 agricultural cooperatives to provide meals to school children.
Thanks to this program, 100,000 children receive a school meal from the region every school day. But social unrest is keeping children out of schools and farmers out of markets. The Peyi-Lok must end for the rebuilding of Haiti’s devastated food systems to resume.
What Haiti is now experiencing is not just a bout of instability that will subside as part of a regular cycle to which the world has become accustomed. Haiti is experiencing a crisis of unprecedented proportions that can only get worse unless we all act quickly and with greater urgency.”