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Haiti facing ‘explosive situation’ because of food crisis, UN official warns

Haiti facing ‘explosive situation’ because of food crisis, UN official warns

Haiti will remain in an extremely precarious economic and humanitarian situation unless it receives an urgent injection of funds to widen emergency feeding operations, extend existing job programmes and jump-start agricultural activity, a senior United Nations official to the impoverished Caribbean country has warned.

Joël Boutroue, the Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Haiti, told the UN News Centre in an interview that while the security situation had stabilized somewhat this week following recent deadly protests over sharp rise in the price of basic foods, daily living conditions are still dire for many Haitians.

“If we don’t react very strongly, then we could find ourselves in a very difficult state,” he said. “The level of poverty, combined with the lack of coping mechanisms for the poorest Haitians, means we have the potential for a very explosive situation.”

In the past thousands of Haitians have fled their homeland because of economic or political problems, and the Coordinator said it was vital that the international community, as well as the Government and the country’s civil society and private sector, work together to prevent a repeat.

He noted that the price of rice has fallen slightly from its peak and President René Préval has outlined to the nation a series of measures he hopes to introduce to alleviate the situation.

The Government, in consultation with the UN, is also devising a plan of action for tackling the crisis that has struck worldwide this year, but hit Haiti – already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – particularly hard. A major international appeal is expected to launch within the next week.

Mr. Boutroue said Haiti has suffered especially because of its poor environment: few forests, infertile or low-quality soil, a lack of irrigation, polluted canals and waterways and a predominance of tiny farms means agricultural activity is limited.

The country also has few factories, unemployment is estimated at around 60 to 70 per cent and more than half the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Mr. Boutroue, who is also the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative in Haiti, called for a series of short- and long-term measures to bring Haiti back from the brink.

These include expanding the existing labour-intensive job programmes that focus particularly on rehabilitating the environment, such as the management of watersheds, so that more agricultural and other economic activity can take place.

It also includes widening the current targeted food distribution schemes, such as the communal kitchens in poor neighbourhoods and the school feeding operations. Earlier this week the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced it will distribute an additional 8,000 tons of food to people in need.

Agriculture can also be jump-started, the envoy said, by providing – either free of charge or at a subsidized rate – fertilizers, seeds, tools and other equipment.

He stressed that many of these activities, including the UN feeding programmes, have the capacity to be expanded rapidly, but he added that a boost should also “inject some more dynamism” into the country and its Government ministries.