31 July 2003, Rome -- A 'silent' food crisis is looming in Haiti, the poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean, FAO warned today.

Living conditions of the poor have deteriorated markedly, with over 3.8 million people suffering from hunger. The majority of the hungry lives in rural areas.

"Haitians somehow manage to survive from day-to-day, leaving many observers questioning whether there is really a humanitarian emergency," said Anne M. Bauer, Director, Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division. "The indicators, however, show that there is a crisis, albeit a 'silent' one, and one that risks becoming deeper."

Damaged agriculture

Increased social and political tensions have contributed to a vicious cycle of marginalization and increased vulnerability, eroding social, economic, infrastructural and environmental assets, FAO said.

Out of a labour force of 4.1 million only 110 000 are employed in the formal sector, of whom 35 000 are civil servants.

Agriculture, the main source of income, has been damaged by drought in the northwest over the last four years and by floods in the northeast over the last season. National food production is still decreasing due to insufficient investment, infrastructure and access to agricultural inputs.

Poor living conditions are exacerbated by inadequate or non-existent water and sanitation services.

Over 1.2 million children are affected or infected by HIV/AIDS or other diseases. Around 23 percent of the children under five are suffering from chronic malnutrition.

Reducing dependency on food aid

FAO launched an appeal for $6 million to finance five key relief activities in Haiti.

FAO projects will:
  • provide seeds and tools to 80 000 vulnerable farm families hit by drought and floods, so that they can resume agricultural production;

  • provide poor households with chickens, pigs and goats to generate income and reduce malnutrition;

  • improve access for 500 families to drinking water and water for vegetable gardening

  • vaccinate 675 000 farm animals against Anthrax to reduce loss of livestock.

"These activities will benefit more than half a million Haitians. FAO aims to increase the communities' dignity and self-reliance in food, thereby reducing dependency on costly and unsustainable external food aid," Bauer said.

FAO will soon distribute around 180 tonnes of seeds to around 60 000 people so that they can prepare for the next planting season which starts in September.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105