Hurricane Matthew and Food Security: A Deepening Crisis
Hurricane Matthew devastated communities throughout Haiti, leaving many without shelter, livestock, or access to basic necessities such as clean water and health services. Many farmers who lost their crops to Matthew’s heavy winds and rain have another overriding concern: feeding their families in the short and long term. Providing access to food and improving food security are essential components of a robust hurricane response.
Haiti was already food insecure before Matthew struck, with over fifty percent of Haitians undernourished and 3.8 million Haitians food-insecure in 2015. The reasons for this long-term insecurity are complex and varied.
Widespread deforestation, driven in large part through charcoal production for cooking, brings with it problems including erosion, degraded soil quality, diminishing crop yields, and an increased risk of flooding. In the 1980s and 90s, changing international trade policies hollowed out Haiti’s agricultural sector by reducing tariffs and allowing foreign agricultural commodities to flood Haitian markets. This led to large-scale urban migration and a growing dietary reliance on cheap, imported commodities like rice that provide insufficient nourishment on their own. Climate change and fluctuating weather patterns associated with El Niño have led to drought in many parts of the country since the start of 2015, and reduced food production and lowered household incomes. Threats to food security can also come from free-ranging livestock like goats that eat crops and young trees.
Post hurricane, the situation for many has become dire. The mammoth storm blasted trees, homes and fields as it lumbered across Haiti’s southwestern peninsula. Trees were made bare or ripped from the ground, fertile topsoil carried away, vanished livestock, and crops lost to flooding. Authorities believe it will take up to 10 years for the hardest-hit regions’ agricultural capacity to be restored.
Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) estimates 806,000 are in need of food aid, but the numbers could be even higher. While media coverage has centered on the urgent needs in the southwest, many areas experienced the effects of Hurricane Mathew with high winds and flooding. When MCC Haiti country representative Paul Shetler-Fast asked a government official from a rural district in the Artibonite, where MCC works, why his region showed no damage on the latest UN maps, the official grew frustrated, "How would they even know? No one has come up to look. No one has even asked!"In cooperation with the local government and local parters, MCC participated in an assessment of the damage, which showed that Verrettes commune alone had documented losses of 1,300 animals and approximately 361 acres of crops.
MCC’s long-term food security program in the Artibonite region positions us to help stand in the gap and accompany hurricane-affected farmers in providing for their families and fighting food insecurity. Next week we will share more about new efforts to provide food assistance to supplement their diets, chickens to help provide important income, and agricultural programs to replant lost crops and store seeds for the future.