Photos in The New York Times on April 18 showed people in Port-au-Prince picking through a garbage dump looking for food. Hunger is constant in Haiti, although the people of Gentilhomme, Malasi and other mountain villages are able to grow food to eat through subsistence farming. There are three growing seasons in Haiti. However, severe weather can destroy an entire season's crops.
“Most of the time,” author Amy Wilentz wrote in The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier (the father-son dictators from 1957 to 1986), “the peasants act for themselves only; it is not easy to keep a family alive out in the dry countryside.
“Often, peasants don’t know who is President; the big news from Port-au-Prince is just a lot of meaningless names to the farmer. Port-au-Prince politics – to him it’s just bla-bla-bla, as Haitians say.”
If the so-called peasants grow restless, there will be change. However slow.
Wilentz points out that “the most important events in Haitian history have been preceded by organization and unrest in the provinces and on the mountainsides: the Revolution of 1791-1804, the end of the U.S. occupation in 1934; the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986 and the subsequent popular movements.”
We believe this is where revival will come from. We believe the work the Lord is doing through us in mountain villages such as Gentilhomme and Malasi will spread through the Chaine de la Selle range and into the hearts of Haitians everywhere.
But, like those suffering unimaginable hunger pangs in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, we are not without our physical needs. Funding is required to do the work – to provide education, seminary training for pastors, clean water, sanitation, medical help, and other support.
Haiti, a country of nearly 9 million people, faces many difficulties. There are natural hazards: the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic, lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms from June through October. There are environmental problems: extensive deforestation, resulting in soil erosion and greater threats from flooding during rainy seasons. There are also inadequate supplies of drinkable water.
The risk of major infectious diseases (such as AIDs) is high, with hepatitis A and E, typhoid fever, dengue fever, and malaria also posing great threats.
However, the greatest challenge facing Haiti might be found in the fact that, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, “roughly half of the population practices voodoo.”
“Voodoo is the culture of my country,” deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide once said. “No one will ever destroy it. Voodoo will survive. It will survive the guns of persecution. It will survive because it is good, and true.”
It is quite the opposite. Voodoo is evil. It is the work of Satan, and the resulting spiritual warfare in Haiti has imprisoned its people. Eighty percent of Haiti’s population is below the poverty line with 54 percent living in abject poverty, according to figures from the CIA World Factbook.
More than two-thirds of the labor force reportedly does not have formal jobs.
“We’re hungry,” an unemployed man told a reporter covering the food riots in Port-au-Prince, “there are no jobs.”
Malnutrition is acute in Haiti, where the average person’s diet contains 1,640 calories – or 460 less than the typical daily requirement of 2,100 calories, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme.
“A new face of hunger is emerging: even where food is available on the shelves, there are now more and more people who simply cannot afford it,” World Food Programme executive director Josette Sheeran said in a written statement.
An economist and special advisor to UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Jeffrey D. Sachs, was quoted as saying: “It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years.” The current food crisis – causing hardship from Haiti to Egypt and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa to Indonesia – threatens many governments.
Preval’s may soon be at risk.
On the day the Senate voted Prime Minister Alexis out of office, President Preval announced measures that would reduce the price of a 50-pound bag of rice from $51 to $43 (a nearly 16-percent reduction). The discount could mean the difference between eating and going hungry for many destitute families, The New York Times reported.
But even that price reduction of the Haitian food staple (rice) may not be enough.
Haiti is a country that survives on small-scale subsistence farming while a peacekeeping force of 8,000 UN soldiers attempts to keep civil order. It waits for the next storm – natural, political, and spiritual. The wait is never long.
Only the suffering is long for the Haitian.
“The hunger in Haiti is everywhere,” missionary Miguel Rubén Guante said. “It is true the people are eating the land.”
Read related stories: