New program aims to stimulate agriculture in Haiti

Haiti’s human capital will play a crucial role in the country’s recovery following January’s catastrophic earthquake through food-for-work projects to stimulate the agricultural sector, as part of a new plan unveiled by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Tuesday.

Working in concert with donors and the Haitian Government, WFP is seeking to procure food locally and is also pre-positioning food, trucks and other supplies before the start of the hurricane season for the strategy, which is kicking off as the agency’s emergency response phase is winding down.

Schoolchildren will be fed a daily, nutritious meal under the new scheme, while pregnant and nursing women, malnourished children under the age of five, orphans and hospital patients will also receive food supplies.

More than 200,000 people were killed in the 12 January earthquake, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale.

Since the disaster, WFP has reached nearly 3.5 million people with rice, flour, beans, oil and other supplies, thanks to contributions of $260 million from donors.

But more than $150 million is still required to launch cash and food-for-work projects, as well as provide logistical support in advance of the hurricane season, in its next phase of operations, the agency said.

Also on Haiti, a UN human rights expert warned this week that donors must not only focus on the country’s physical and institutional reconstruction, but also on ensuring the rights of its citizens to prevent creating the conditions that made January’s quake so devastating.

“The loss of an estimated 220,000 lives in the 12 January earthquake cannot be solely attributed to an act of nature,” said Michel Forst, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti.

He pointed to the policies and poor governance that resulted in many Haitians living in poverty and inadequate housing as having “clearly amplified the deadly impact of the earthquake, as well as of the hurricanes that periodically test Haiti’s preparedness and the strength of its infrastructure.”

Under the yet-to-be-detailed plan, an Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission would channel nearly $4 billion into specific projects and programmes during the next 18 months, with the remaining funds spread over the next decade.

“Those responsible for the country’s reconstruction, at the national and international levels, must guard against recreating the same factors that helped perpetuate rampant inequality and poverty, as well as widespread violence,” Mr. Forst, the rights expert, said today.

As welcome as donor aid is, plans and strategies must be driven by the needs and rights of “ordinary Haitians, rather than imposed according to some external model.”

Of vital importance, he said, is the future of Haiti’s legal system to ensure the human rights of the population.

Also calling for Haitian ownership of the reconstruction process is the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which called international assistance to focus on investment in infrastructure, improving market access, mobilizing domestic resources and stepped-up agricultural productivity.

In a new policy brief, the agency argued that the damage inflicted the January quake was colossal, but that it also followed three decades of “stalled development, during which incomes stagnated and more than a million Haitians – 11 per cent of the population – left their homeland.”

As a result, Haiti is facing numerous socio-economic challenges, but “paradoxically, however, the earthquake represents an opportunity to correct past mistakes and promote a more strategic and inclusive policy vision – one that aims to move the economy from recovery to a more sustainable economic growth and development plan,” it said.

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), along with partner organizations, today underscored the need to ensure that children, young people and their families are at the heart of the rebuilding effort in Haiti, already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation before being struck by the quake.

Children under the age of 15 comprise nearly 40 per cent of the country’s population, while young people between the ages of 15 and 24 make up an additional 20 per cent.

“Even before the earthquake the needs of many Haitian children were not met,” according to a joint press release issued by UNICEF and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages, Oxfam, Plan International and World Vision International.

Nearly one out of 14 children did not live to see their firth birthday, while those who survived were often malnourished.

Almost half of all Haitian children did not attend primary school, while only 18 per cent of boys and 21 per cent of girls attended secondary school.

“If Haiti is to emerge from disaster as a place where children and families can survive and thrive, a holistic and sustained internally-funded response that creates a strong child protection system and provides access to quality health care and education will be needed,” the organizations stressed.

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