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Drought sparks hunger crisis

By Associated Press in Oriani, Haiti (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-25 08:24

Only shriveled carrots and potatoes grow in Carole Joseph's small vegetable plot. The family's chickens are long gone. She sold her only tools to buy food, then the wooden bed she shared with her children. The family now sleeps on the floor of their shack.

All that's left to sell are the pots she uses to cook over a fire pit, when there's something to eat.

The 28-year-old mother of four, is among roughly 1.5 million Haitians who can't get nearly enough nutrition because of a yearslong drought that has spoiled harvests in her small mountain village and across large sections of the countryside.

"We get a little bit to eat and drink each day, but it's never enough to get our strength back. I don't know what to do anymore," she said, her voice hoarse as she cradled her toddler twins, their hair brittle and taking on a yellowish tinge, signs of malnutrition.

For the last 3 years, a punishing drought has driven Haitians who were already barely getting by on marginal farmland even deeper into misery. Last year's crop yields were the worst in 35 years in a country where more than two-thirds of people eke out a living from agriculture, many using archaic hand tools.

Many Haitians routinely go to bed hungry, and are heartbreakingly accustomed to privation and natural disasters. But the cumulative impact of this drought is so severe that Haiti is facing "unprecedented food insecurity," according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

El Nino weather

Over the last year, it's worsened significantly with a strong El Nino weather phenomenon that's been disrupting weather patterns across the globe, leaving many places in Latin America and the Caribbean stricken by drought. Cuba suffered its worst drought in over a century in 2015 and water rationing was ordered in Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

But few places are more vulnerable than Haiti, where 3.6 million of its 10.4 million people can't afford the minimum daily calories, according to the UN World Food Program. Of those, 1.5 million are in urgent need of assistance, meaning they're getting significantly less nutrition than what they need and are so underfed they become weak.

That category of "severely food insecure" people has doubled in Haiti over the last six months, the agency said.

"This drought is a very dangerous situation. The pressures on people keep increasing," said Haitian economist Kesner Pharel, noting that buying food makes up more than half of an average Haitian family's budget.

Pharel said local agricultural production has contracted so severely over the last two years that 70 percent of the crops consumed in Haiti are now imported, up from roughly 50 percent in the past.

 

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