Haiti's challenge is our challenge

The prairie Star
Friday, October 10, 2008 11:15 AM MDT

Our Views

In spite of monumental challenges with our own financial system plus recovery efforts following hurricanes and tropical storms, the U.S. still helps other countries. We should take pride in that fact.

Recently, Tropical Storms Fay and Hanna, as well as Hurricanes Gustav and Ike left destruction in Haiti. According to reports from the United States Agency for International Development, much needed aid came from the United States to Haiti.

A quick look at the map shows that Haiti shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. In an area slightly smaller than Maryland, Haiti is home to 8.9 million people. Maryland has about 5.6 million people by comparison.

Life expectancy in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is 58 years. Eighty percent of people live in poverty, and over half live in squalor. Two-thirds of Haitians depend on the agriculture sector for food and money, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, but the soil is poor and doesn't yield much food.

Before hurricanes this summer, one in five Haitians was chronically malnourished. Then terrible hurricanes came and caused great damage and even more hardship in August and September.

Among the first organizations to reach Haiti was Doctors without Borders, who sent eight people on Sept. 4. With help from citizens, they cleaned out a health center in the city of Gonaives with a population of 350,000-500,000.

Hurricane Ike arrived the next weekend with a wall of water and mud that blasted the town, leaving it with little clean water, and covering the streets with mud and garbage. Under these unhygienic conditions and without access to clean water, diarrhea, dehydration, respiratory infections, malaria, dysentery, measles and skin diseases were concerns.

As of late September, 423 Haitians had died from the hurricanes, 50 people were missing and about 850,000 were affected by the storms.

Another organization that stepped in to help was the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) of Haiti that initially provided food rations to over 4,300 families, as well as bottled water, hygiene kits, household items and other essentials to another 1,000 families. It is likely that many more Haitians have been helped since.

The United States Government provided tremendous support to Haiti. By late September, the U.S. had given more than $30.4 million to help Haiti. The funding was funneled through the U.S. Agency for International Development, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance.

These dollars funded emergency food and water, and relief efforts to assist about 449,854 people, along with road and infrastructure repair and building, and pre-positioning of relief commodities for the remainder of the hurricane season.

The World Food Program had distributed 3,689 metric tons of food to 787,815 Haitians by late September and a $200,000 donation was recently given by The Fertilizer Institute and Friends of the World Food Program. The donation will support Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools, a program aimed to improve the long-term food and nutrition security of children between the ages of 12 and 18.

Despite all of these efforts - with both short- and long-term impacts, food shortages are still anticipated throughout October in Haiti, where food prices have risen dramatically.

There are many challenges in Haiti, from political, to greed, to drugs, to exploitation, to hunger, to natural disasters to poor farmland.

We hope that healthy grains and products from our region reach Haiti and provide good food for children and adults. We also hope that Haiti can soon raise more food for its own people too.

Most people who read this paper have experienced natural disasters. Whether it is a flood, a tornado, a drought, or a blizzard, people know an important key to working through a disaster is to begin to clean up as soon as possible.

Fortunately, most people here have plenty of food, good health, access to equipment and the wherewithal to move ahead.

But imagine experiencing a terrible natural disaster and having few mechanical or infrastructure resources. On top of that, consider being too hungry to clean up and go on with your life. That is what Haiti is facing today.

If you have programs through your church or other organizations that are helping Haiti through this time, consider whether a gift might help the organization in the future.

Mostly, be grateful to be born in the United States, be thankful as you harvest your crops this fall that you are able to feed the world through your livelihood, and be proud of what this great nation is doing for others that are less fortunate.

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