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Food and shelter are still scarce in Haiti

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Six months after Hurricane Matthew tore through Haiti’s southern peninsula, shelter and food remain scarce especially in remote, difficult-to-reach areas, according to reports here.

El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator and head of the UN Development Program for Haiti, said he would not describe the situation as a famine, but “it could get close to that” if nothing is done and the hurricane-ravaged areas miss another planting season, according to the Miami Herald.

“If now we miss this one, this season, which is the main season for agriculture, then we will be in deep trouble in May, June and July,” Benlamlih told the Herald. “There are pockets of food insecurity particularly in remote areas. [People] don’t eat enough.

“They have to use coping strategies, like drop one meal or send the kids to the uncle or family in Port-au-Prince [the capital],” he added. “That’s what they are trying to do to survive.”

Benlamlih had toured the southwest and Grand’ Anse regions in Haiti, where Matthew’s 145 mph winds struck the hardest, flooding streets, destroying homes and uprooting fruit-bearing trees, the Herald said.

It said the South Florida-based charity Food For The Poor had first sounded the alarm on what it said was a food shortage in the regions so severe “that families have turned in desperation to fruits and foliage known to be poisonous, if consumed uncooked, in an attempt to quell their hunger and save their lives.”

At least 13 people had died over the span of 10 days in the Grand’ Anse, the charity said last month after reporting that one of its teams had come across 240 people, including 84 women and 62 children, living in a mountain cave in Fonds Rouge Dahere, a rural village in the outskirts of Jeremie, the capital of the Grand’ Anse, the Herald said.

Last month, Haiti’s agriculture agency reported that more than 180,000 people in the Grand’ Anse were living in an “emergency situation,” according to the Herald.

In response to the crisis, it said charities, such as Food For The Poor and Pompano Beach Cross International, rushed container loads of food to the region for distribution to families.

With the international spotlight on the Haitians living in caves, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and newly appointed Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant immediately arranged a trip to the area, the Herald said.

There, Moïse — who later called a meeting with foreign diplomats representing Haiti’s major donor countries to ask for better coordination of humanitarian aid — announced that the government was taking charge of the situation, the Herald said.

It said the government promised to build houses for the cave dwellers, and start a community restaurant to feed villagers.

“We came to see with our eyes, and to tell you,” Moïse said standing in front of a cave in Fonds Rouge, “I don’t agree with anyone on this earth using your misery for political gain.”

But nearly two weeks after that visit, despite a tweet by the presidency that the community restaurant had been operational since April 1, a local priest and a community leader told the Herald that housing and food are still difficult to find. The restaurant, they said, isn’t functioning.

“On the promise of the president, everyone left the cave,” said Jean-Berlin Depeine, a father of two and leader of the group in the cave who said he sought refuge there after Matthew destroyed his home. “Up until now, the people haven’t found any housing.”

Father Edison Barthelemy Feuille, a local priest who worked with Food For The Poor, said even the charity has stopped distributions after the president’s visits, according to the Herald.

Benlamlih said that Hurricane Matthew had caused US$2.8 million in damages, which is one-third of Haiti’s gross domestic product, or “the equivalent of what the Diaspora is sending to Haiti in a year.”

While the humanitarian response provided water, food distributions and temporary shelter in schools to many of the 2 million people who were impacted by the storm, Benlamlih, who only recently arrived in Haiti, said there wasn’t enough focus on recovery in the early days after the storm, the Herald said.

It said that, after Matthew struck, the United Nations issued a US$139 million emergency appeal for humanitarian aid, of which only US$86 million was funded.

For this year, the global body is seeking US$250.3 million for Haiti to meet the needs of Hurricane Matthew victims and also other humanitarian assistance, the Herald said.

“We still have 1 million people who receive aid, still in need of help,” Benlamlih said. “All sectors are affected. Fisheries, agriculture, infrastructure is affected.

“A lot has been done but more needs to be done,” he added. “We still need humanitarian assistance and to help this country have more options.”

Updated 11:53 am, April 26, 2017
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