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Page last updated at 10:43 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 11:43 UK

Viewpoint: How to help Haiti

Woman walks through mud in Gonaives, which was badly damaged by the storms
Haiti's way out of the storm crisis will be difficult but not impossible

The two hurricanes and two tropical storms that hit Haiti within the space of a month left several hundred people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, and damaged the already fragile economy.

Sarah Wilson of the Christian Aid development organisation has been in Haiti to assess the emergency response to the devastation. She offers her view on some of the best ways to help Haitians recover:

Haiti often comes across as one of the most wretched and hopeless places on the planet. But that is not the complete picture and the way out of the multiple crises the country faces is much simpler and less expensive than it might seem.

The country tends to hit the headlines in times of flooding or civil strife and most of the photographs and videos that appear are shot in cities. This also gives a false impression.

US military deliver rice to Haiti
Helping Haitians grow their own rice might be cheaper than food aid

More than 65% of Haitians live in rural areas and 82% of these live in poverty. Even before four storms in as many weeks destroyed hundreds of hectares of crops on the point of harvest, Haiti's farmers were surviving on very little.

There are many reasons for this poverty. But one of the most significant is trade policies imposed on the country by international financial institutions. In 1994 the tariff on rice imports was lowered from 36% to 3%.

This led to much rice coming from US farmers who had subsidised surpluses to offload.

Haiti became dependent on food imports because local farmers could not compete with imported rice and home production shrank considerably.

So soaring prices of rice and other staples this year have hit the Haitian population particularly hard.

Milk

But reversing this trend of rising food prices and hence malnutrition is not that difficult - and much cheaper than airlifting tonnes of imported emergency provisions for months to come.

Let Agogo milk truck
Small projects can help farmers get fair prices for their produce

As the flood waters subside, investment in repairing and extending damaged irrigation systems will be crucial if farmers are to be able to get back on their feet.

Seeds and fertiliser are also very important. A relatively small amount of outside help can enable Haitian farmers to start growing rice again at a time when they can command a better price for it.

Milk is the second largest import after rice. The country has lots of cows, but milk requires careful storage and refrigerated transport.

With almost no mains electricity in the countryside, this is a big challenge.

A project supported by Christian Aid has set out to tackle this problem.

Veterimed has set up 13 dairies around Haiti to process milk into higher value products like yogurt and soft drinks and transport them to shops.

In areas where there is no electricity, they use solar panels to keep the milk products cool. This enables Veterimed to buy milk from local farmers at double the price they would normally receive.

Misland Perone in Haiti
Misland Perone and her children now have to sleep at friends' houses

It is not just farmers who need long-term solutions in Haiti. Many of those whose homes were literally swept away by the flood waters were those who built on the most vulnerable land near the banks of a river.

Misland Perone, 19, lived with her mother and three children near Montrouis, about 80km (50 miles) from the capital. She had her first child at 15. Standing in the rubble of her house, she said: "There were four houses in front of ours. There's no trace of them now."

Misland only managed to grab her children and one basket of clothes before the flood waters destroyed most of her house. Now she is sleeping in a different friend's house every night with her children.

Sun power

Before the hurricane she made a living selling sex to locals and truck drivers passing through town.

Christian Aid worker Prospery Raymond in Haiti
Gadgets like solar-powered mobile phone chargers are really useful

Since the storms, Haitian organisation Poz has decided to offer women like Misland micro-credit, so that they can start new businesses selling goods in the market. This will provide them with much needed income and perhaps a long-term alternative to selling sex.

One innovative Haitian product which could be sold in local markets are solar-powered mobile phone chargers. In a country with little mains electricity or land-lines, but a lot of sun, it is a very useful gadget.

Haitian people are not short of initiative or man-power.

They do need some help from the outside world following the storms. But a little, well-targeted aid to grass roots projects will go far.




SEE ALSO
Haiti 'overwhelmed' after storms
19 Sep 08 |  Americas
'One million homeless' in Haiti
13 Sep 08 |  Americas
Eyewitness: Haiti's storm ordeals
07 Sep 08 |  Americas
Country profile: Haiti
04 Jun 08 |  Country profiles

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