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Mission: Haiti 2008

Hunger in Haiti

By Gary Fallesen
President, Climbing For Christ (April 28, 2008)

The presidential honeymoon for Rene Preval has ended in Haiti. Hunger will do that. Hunger feeds the desire to see change. But change hasn’t happened in Haiti in many, many, many years.

Unrest returned to the capital of Port-au-Prince in early April. It flooded in from the southwestern town of Les Cayes. It was fueled by the need to eat, and the lack of money to buy what might fill the many empty stomachs trying to survive in Haiti.

  • Scroll down for another Climbing For Christ member's perspective (“Food for thought”) on the hunger crisis

Food prices have increased 40 percent globally since mid-2007. In Haiti, where most people live on less than U.S. $2 a day, this poses a great threat to human life.

The result of rising food prices: violence, dead Haitians in Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince, a murdered U.N. peacekeeper, and the ousting of Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis by Haiti’s Senate on April 12. In other words, normalcy for Haiti.

“About the food riots in Haiti,” Miguel Rubén Guante, Climbing For Christ’s missionary to that troubled place, said on April 25, “everything is quiet. After the prime minister was fired, nothing is happening.”

At least not in the mountains, where Climbing For Christ has ministered since 2005.

Haitian hunger
Haitian hunger

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:


Food for thought

By Sarah Brownell
(May 3, 2008)

Note: Sarah Brownell, a Climbing For Christ member from Rochester, N.Y., spends about half of the year working in Haiti. She is part of the Mission: Haiti team, specializing in sanitation.

The food crisis in Haiti is really hard on people. It’s worse in the cities, I think. They call it “grangou klowoks.” They are used to hunger, they say, but this kind is like drinking Clorox. In the countryside, the economy is less cash based and more dependent on trade of agricultural products between families — thus they are more affected by droughts and hurricanes than world prices. In the cities, people don't have land to grow food, so they have to buy it.  Rice, corn, canned milk and other imports have, in some cases, more than doubled in price and Haitian production has been hurt by international policies over the last 20 years or so that put many Haitian growers out of business (especially rice). Rice for four people is at $3 U.S. ($22 Haitian).

Prices of food staples are rising worldwide for a variety of reasons, including:

  • An increased demand for meat (especially from growing, affluent populations in China and India), which results in more land and grain going toward meat production;
  • Rising transportation costs due to fuel prices;
  • Droughts related to global warming, which affects production;
  • Investment in food supplies as commodities driving up prices;
  • Competition from ethanol production. Prices of rice, grain, and corn have increased 50-to-100 percent. I’ve also heard that money the U.S. Federal Reserve is making available to banks for loans to businesses and individuals to help stop the recession from happening actually may be invested in commodities instead, which would drive prices up even more. Food is being traded like gold and silver and turned into fuel to burn in cars. I have read that almost 50 percent of U.S. corn production last year went to fuel because of incentives from the government intended to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by promoting ethanol.

In Haiti, hungry people have taken to the streets, throwing rocks and bottles, burning tires, and breaking into businesses and food storehouses such as those of the World Food Program. The UN has been attacked because people believe that they, as an occupying force, should be doing something to improve the living conditions. Tensions also still exist over UN operations intended to reduce gang activities in Cite Soleil that resulted in the deaths of many innocent people in 2006. Businesses have been attacked because people believe that the elite have raised prices excessively in response to newly enforced import taxes. The Preval government has been attacked for enforcing the import taxes.

The elites blame Preval for the crisis because of increased taxes on imports. The Preval government has simply been enforcing the previously unenforced tax schedule already on the books. The elites also blame Aristide supporters including Father Jean Juste (a likely future presidential candidate), who was in Haiti the week before the riots for a rally.  They say he is stirring up the riots. Protests, however, have not occurred in traditional Aristide strongholds like Cite Soleil. The elite have also said, “If Charles Baker (a sweatshop owner who ran against Preval) was president, this crisis would never have happened.” Yuri Latortue, cousin of the interim president following the coup, has said that Preval is ineffective and it is time for him to go. Latortue has also previously offered to personally finance the reestablishment of the Haitian military. There is a possibility that people with political motives are taking advantage of the hunger to destabilize the Preval government by paying protesters to throw rocks and burn buildings and make the elected government look bad. The elites believe that the government will repay them for any damages done to their businesses during the protests. Prime minister Alexi ended up taking the fall. There was a vote of no confidence. 

The rural and urban poor generally are critical of the way Preval speaks to the people and his unwillingness to stand up to the international community for justice in the same way Aristide did. Some people say that he didn’t really say anything in his speech; while others feel that his call for increasing national agricultural production and building infrastructure is sound. However, most people think that some emergency measures are needed to curb the hunger that is being compared to drinking Clorox. In Preval’s speech he said he would sit with the business community to see if prices could be temporarily reduced to alleviate suffering, but asked people to give the long-term programs time to work. Supposedly, food donations will come from international donors; importers will reduce their prices a little, and the Haitian government will temporarily reduce the taxes on food staples. Most people seem to have accepted Preval’s explanations and plan for relief, so far. Ironically, the international financial lending institutions recently praised Haiti for improving its economic indicators, even though much of the population is living with an economic situation that is worse than ever. These structural programs might be working to improve Haiti's economy in the long term, but a number of people are going to die in the process. 

Unfortunately, I think we are in for trouble all over the world – the poor have been exceptionally patient and for the most part peaceful under oppression and exploitation for a long, long time. As the Latin American Bishops said at Medellin: “One should not abuse the patience of a people that for years has borne a situation that would not be acceptable to anyone with any degree of awareness of human rights.”

We can't make gas out of food when people are starving. We can't trade wheat as if it were diamonds just to make money off the fluctuation of its price.

The Word

“Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street.”
– Lamentations 2:19 (NIV)


The Need

Climbing For Christ has budgeted $1,380-$1,480 a month to start covering the expenses of Mission: Haiti. Among what is being paid for:

– Miguel's salary $300
– Travel expenses $230-$430
– Communication $300
– Teachers $200
– Clinic $50
– Seminary $300

This does not include support for churches, pastors, school supplies, medical needs, and emergencies. Additionally, we need to raise funding for bigger projects in Gentilhomme, such as:

– Missionary house $5,000
– Truck to transport supplies and people $2,000 down payment + $700 per month
– Sanitation (arborloo construction) $30 per house = $3,000 for entire village of Gentilhomme
– Water system $2,000

This gives us a budget estimated at $40,500 for Mission: Haiti.

If you can help support Mission: Haiti, we ask you to send a tax-deductible donation to Climbing For Christ. Mail your gift (with the notation “For Haiti”) to:

Climbing For Christ, Inc.
P.O. Box 16290
Rochester, NY 14616-0290

You can also donate online using PayPal. CLICK HERE. Remember, a portion of your gift will be kept by PayPal as part of its processing fee.

Thank you!


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