In Haiti, First A Food Emergency May Lead to Political Crisis

I keep harping on Sandy’s devastation in Haiti, because I see this story is being completely overlooked by mainstream media here in the USA. As I noted earlier, the UN is now warning of a looming food crisis that could affect more than 1 million people. A food crisis is bad on its own terms–it means in the first instance that children and pregnant women will not be able to get the nutrients they need. But rising food prices can also lead to a profound political crisis in Haiti.

A rise in food prices in Haiti triggered violent demonstrations and political instability in April 2008. Jean Debalio Jean-Jacques, the agriculture ministry’s director for the southern department, said he worried that the massive crop loss “could aggravate the situation”.

“The storm took everything away,” Jean-Jacques said. “Everything the peasants had in reserve – corn, tubers – all of it was devastated. Some people had already prepared their fields for winter crops and those were devastated.”

In Abricots on Haiti’s southwestern tip, the community was still recovering from the effects of 2010’s Hurricane Tomas and a recent dry spell when Sandy hit.

“We’ll have famine in the coming days,” Kechner Toussaint, the Abricots mayor, said. “It’s an agricultural disaster.”

The main staples of the local diet, bananas and breadfruit, were ripped out by winds and ruined by heavy rains.

In the southwestern Grand Anse department, a boat that regularly comes from the capital Port-au-Prince to deliver supplies and pick up produce to sell in the capital had not come in more than a week because of the storm. The cost of basic things, such as fuel, had already jumped.

Americans should start paying attention to this budding crisis, and soon.  The United States has dispatched its military to Haiti three times in the past 15 years. Unless this humanitarian emergency is nipped in the bud, we can expect a political crisis to explode.

The United Nations humanitarian relief programs are kicking into gear, but they need donors to quickly step up. Before the storm, the UN’s humanitarian appeal for Haiti was only 40% funded.  Governments around the world should understand that unless this burgeoning food crisis is quickly ameliorated, we may face a longer, deeper and more difficult to contain political crisis.