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After four hurricanes, Haiti faces famine

Published Sep 28, 2008 8:50 PM

Haiti started the month of August as the poorest country by far in the Western Hemisphere. Then four hurricanes—Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike—hit the country, doing vast and unmeasured damage to its roads and bridges, housing, economy, crops and crop land, schools and hospitals.

The country that already had the least now has much less.

A map on Relief Web, a United Nations service, summarizes the homeless, missing, dead and injured in Haiti. Only one of Haiti’s 10 provinces—the North East—was spared significant damage. (www.reliefweb.int)

The figures on the number of dead are far too low. The Haitian government has stopped counting in order to concentrate on repairing roads and bridges, so it can get food and water to the 900,000 people who have nothing left except the clothes on their bodies.

MINUSTAH, the U.N. forces that began occupying Haiti after the coup in 2004 against President Jean Bertrand Aristide—a coup financed and organized by the U.S.—distributed 2,852,300 meals and 21,710 liters of drinkable water to refugees in Gonaïves from Sept. 5 to Sept. 20. Along with aid from the World Food Program and NGOs, this has kept people from dying of famine.

But it is not nearly enough. Gonaïves is believed to have 200,000 refugees. The city has been inundated by mud from the surrounding mountains. The donated food amounts to slightly less than one meal per person a day.

In Bainet, a small city on the southern coast between Côte-de-Fer and Jacmel, the situation is also catastrophic. Its deputy in parliament, Malherbe François, told the Haitian press, “We have registered 37,989 families affected by these storms. But nine rural communities, which are part of our district, aren’t able to make contact with the city.” So the Haitian government doesn’t really know how many people need aid.

If Haiti doesn’t get substantial and immediate foreign aid, thousands of Haitians could die.

However, Haïtí-Progrès in its Sept. 17-23 edition says the U.N. aid being given comes from a need “to stifle the anger of the people, not from humanitarianism.” Haïtí-Liberté points out that a lot of this aid is being used to compensate the Haitian bourgeoisie for its losses, rather than for the needs of the people.

In addition, the Swiss News Service reported Sept. 19 that the U.N. has received only 2 percent of the $108 million it had requested to aid Gonaïves.

Beyond the immediate threat of famine, Haiti needs to reforest its land so that rain from storms doesn’t produce mudslides, which killed many in the past six weeks.

Haiti’s plant cover is estimated at less than 2 percent. The recent heavy downpours led to severe flooding much worse than in the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. In the Dominican Republic, plant cover is estimated at 30 percent and far fewer people died.

Haitian Environment Minister Jean-Marie Claude Germain said this process of deforestation dates back to the country’s independence. Intense neocolonial exploitation by France so impoverished the people that the only fuel they could use for cooking was and is charcoal, often sold by the handful. When the U.S. became the neocolonial master of the Caribbean, it maintained and strengthened France’s policies. President Aristide was demanding $20 billion in reparations from France before he was kidnapped from the country by U.S. forces.

Two Haitian organizations in the New York area are collecting funds and medical supplies for use by Cuban doctors in Haiti. Volunteer Cuban personnel provide most of what medical care Haitians get.

Haitian Women for Haitian Refugees is accepting donations and funds at 35 Maple St., 2nd floor, Brooklyn, Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 718-735-4660. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to IFCO/Haitian Relief, 418 W. 145th St., New York, NY 10031.

The Haitian Coalition to Support the Struggle in Haiti (Kakola) is also collecting funds. Checks should be payable to Komite Chalo Jaklen Inc. and sent to KAKOLA, P.O. Box 250459, Brooklyn, NY 11225. For more information, call 718-629-4050. Members of both HWHR and Kakola will take the aid collected directly to Haiti.