Haiti: Struggle to survive

According to a study conducted by the Inter-American Bank, there are more than 26 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean facing ever-deep poverty if food prices remain as high as they have been lately. Between the beginning of 2006 and March 2008, worldwide food prices have increased by a staggering 68 percent. As a reaction, protests and riots have broken out in countries like Haiti, Nicaragua, and Mexico.

In Haiti, the situation could hardly be worst. One of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti is undergoing major humanitarian crisis caused by prevalent food shortage, growing population, dependency on imported food, increased worldwide prices and hence, growing poverty. The recent hurricanes and storms have only hit the country's deplorable conditions harder. Over 200 people have lost their lives in the last three weeks by the hands of the hurricanes causing severe flooding. Over 600,000 people are in need of help.

John Holmes, the U.N undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs described the situation saying, "It's clear that one of the effects of the successive storms has been to wash away a lot of the efforts that were made to restore agricultural production in Haiti itself."

Haiti has largely been dependant on imported food, and the global spike in prices along with a global food shortage has been largely responsible for the country's current state. Efforts are being made by the United Nations and other aid organizations to uplift the agricultural production in Haiti so that the dependency on foreign food can be relatively relieved. The storms have caused much of these activities a major setback.

The economic and sustenance situation is further weakening Haiti's vulnerable political scenario. Poverty has a direct correlation with public frustration and the food shortage is only aggravating this mass-level dissatisfaction. This discontentment could hardly be more justified. Most people live on simply $2 a day. With the current price level, it takes half of what they earn to buy a small container of rice. Six out of 10 people in Haiti's capital city cannot even afford one square meal a day. Unfortunately, in response to riots and public dissatisfaction, governments often resort to repression too -- thus, only further aggravating the volatile situation.

When frustrated is vented out by means of violence, it obviously results in the loss of lives and breakdown of infrastructure. The poor are caught between choosing between two failed situations. They either choose to submit and remain caught in the cycle of poverty, or raise voices for the establishment to take notice further only bringing deaths to their own people. 

In early April, six Haitians and a UN peacekeeper were killed in the riots. The violent disturbances caused the ouster of the prime minister of this highly indebted country. Hedi Annabi, a special representative of the U.N Secretary General was quoted as saying, "Obviously, people who are hungry have no stake in stability... And if we cannot respond to some of their basic needs, I think all of the progress we have made in the last three years will be at great risk."

Unable to afford even one square meal a day, parents are pulling their children out of schools. Poverty is hence dragging the poor into an even more vicious cycle where a compromise is being made on the future investment of the country. UNICEF and the World Food Program are falling behind in donations, unable to keep pace with the spiraling cost of rice, which has hit $950 a ton, three times what it was at the start of 2007.

Some analysts predict that the constant spike in food prices is likely to continue until after 2009. Studying the history of Haiti, it seems that when the country opened its doors to globalization allowing imported food items and removing tariffs, the local economy lost its impetus. Cheaper goods produced at subsidized prices, even food items replaced what Haiti was producing and manufacturing locally. If Haiti is to pull out of the pitiful situation it is in, it needs to work on self-sustainability. Only can the reduced dependence on imported items bring back the local economy to its feet. 


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