Haiti early recovery linked to turning the corner in the countryside

by Rhodri C. Williams

Two months on from Haiti’s earthquake, the practical contours of a strategy to find durable solutions for the displaced appears to be taking shape. In essence, the plan seems to be to work from the establishment of safe transitional shelter sites toward permanent reintegration of those who remained in Port au Prince and other affected towns, on one hand, while seeking to provide an economic basis for those who left the towns to remain in the countryside, on the other. Whether or not this approach can now be said to represent an explicit article of international and Haitian government policy, the building blocks are clearly being put in place.

Judging from the latest OCHA situation report, increasingly targeted interventions may be yielding some encouraging results. A March 12 IASC contingency planning meeting brought together international, government and civil society actors to identify at-risk groups and “gaps where preparedness is needed in anticipation of the rainy/hurricane seasons.” Two days later, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes visited Haiti to assess humanitarian relief efforts. An international donor meeting will take place at the New York UN Headquarters at the end of March in order to secure funding for an impressive list of needs including schools, infrastructure, roads and power, as well as assistance to cover the government’s payroll for teachers, police, doctors, nurses, civil servants and basic services.

Shelter materials have been provided to some 63% of those in need and the shift from general food distribution to food and cash for work schemes is set to be scaled up next month. Child protection measures and monitoring of gender-based violence in camps are also being expanded, along with vaccinations, nutrition programs, health interventions and efforts to provide clean water and sanitation. Schools are slated to reopen in April. However, the question of securing safe and legally secure transitional shelter sites appears to be becoming more acute as the rainy season approaches:

The relocation of 200,000 persons currently displaced in high risk settlements requires a minimum of 600 ha. So far 220 ha have been identified by the Government. Of the five sites that were identified by the Government for relocation, two have been secured and surveyed. MINUSTAH will soon start works in Tabarre Issa. The other three sites are still under negotiation.

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There are still insufficient human resources for site planning and development as well as of Social Engineering staff to facilitate the movement of the population to the new sites. The lack of new land allocation is of concern in respect [of the] imminent raining season.

Outside of the towns, the FAO reports in a new press release that ongoing seed distributions currently targeting 180,000 smallholder farming families are meant to be complemented with longer horizon programs supporting reforestation, increased food production and community watershed management. The short term objective of these programs is to speed an exit from large-scale food aid, but the longer term goals are set in ambitious terms as the creation of a “greener, more productive Haiti”. Critically, the PR notes that these goals are meant not only to benefit the settled rural population but also the more recent influx of urban IDPs:

During his visit, [FAO Head] Diouf and Minister [of Agriculture] Gue signed the Leogane Declaration, signaling the commitment of FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development to work together on short-, medium- and long-term programmes aimed at increasing food production, supporting the integration of displaced populations in rural areas and building a revitalized, sustainable Haitian agriculture sector and promoting long-term investment.

However, this strategy involves a high-stakes up front gamble. If agricultural production cannot be ramped up quickly enough during the next weeks and months, food insecurity will likely result not only for those displaced from the capital but also the host families they currently depend on. The latest OCHA report described the precarious situation of rural host families, based on a recent survey by CRS:

Approximately 78% of respondents reported hosting an average of 5.6 displaced persons. This has put an enormous strain on household coping strategies with the vast majority of households eating less, selling belongings (including possessions, livestock, grain reserves) changing their diet, and using trees to make charcoal.

The assessment reveals that the pressure on host families has compelled farmers to make changes in their normal agricultural practices.  Farmers are now reducing some inputs such as fertilizer and tillage. They are also shifting to short season crops and prefer lower cost seeds (such as maize) while avoiding high cost seeds (such as bean). Overall, although land cropped remains the same, the land being cropped per household member has dropped dramatically. According to analysis made by CRS, these new trends could result in a dramatic drop in household income and increase food security.

In a separate press release, FAO describes a recent appeal by its Director-General, Jacques Diouf, for an integrated rural development programme in Haiti to be funded through the dedication of a portion of the $20 billion pledged for farmers in poor countries  by the G-8 leaders in Italy last July. While it is likely that this proposal will receive a sympathetic hearing at the upcoming donors’ conference, the fate of an agriculture-centric early recovery plan may hang in the balance in the next few months.

Given the current difficulties in providing safe transitional shelter for those IDPs who remained in towns, crop failures could provoke a disaster in the form of further influxes, both of returning urban IDPs and new migrants from the countryside. Long poor and neglected, Haiti now finds itself in the extraordinary position of entering the second decade of the 21st century with its  fortunes standing or falling on the outcome of a single growing season.

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2 responses to “Haiti early recovery linked to turning the corner in the countryside

  1. Pingback: Back to the land for displaced persons? « TerraNullius

  2. Pingback: Leadup to the Haiti donor conference – ‘decentralization’ as central to reconstruction « TerraNullius

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