Heeding the warnings: Why we can’t afford to ignore the looming food crisis in Haiti

Thursday, November 22, 2012 - 12:10

It’s nearly a month after Hurricane Sandy swept past Haiti, killing 54 people and displacing thousands.  Whilst the world’s media has turned its attention to disasters on the other side of the world, Haitians are struggling to pick up the pieces. 

The hurricane caused massive destruction to Haiti’s agricultural sector, which accounts for about 25% of the country’s GDP. Our local partner organisation in Grande Anse, in the south west of the country, recently reported that farmers they work with had lost between 70-90% of their crops to the flood waters brought by Sandy. 

And so, beyond the immediate impact of the disaster, another, more pressing issue now looms large; the prospect of a catastrophic food crisis.

Last year, the world slept through the food crisis and famine in the Horn of Africa.  A report released by an NGO consortium – tellingly entitled A Dangerous Delay1 - later criticised the response for being too slow; for letting tens of thousands of people die needlessly. 

In the Sahel, earlier this year, again the international community was caught napping.  And whilst the response to that crisis has been marginally quicker, still hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable suffered unnecessarily.

Now it seems Haiti is facing the same fate.  With harvests devastated by the combined effects of Hurricane Sandy, an earlier cyclone (Isaac) in August, and a drought which hit earlier this year, the UN estimates that nearly 2 million of the country’s poorest people are at risk of elevated food insecurity over the coming months. 

A new paper released today by ActionAid - Haiti: Avoiding Another Dangerous Delay - gives more detail behind the emerging crisis.  But it also highlights that it’s not too late to act.  We don’t have to repeat the same mistakes of the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.  The international community has the opportunity now to put measures in place that can avert a future catastrophe.

Food crises are not new.  But when the warning signs are there, and the alarm bell is sounded in good time, we all have a responsibility to step up.  For us to sleepwalk through another preventable disaster is a price Haitians cannot afford to pay.


  1. Read A Dangerous Delay - a report released by Oxfam and Save The Children on the Horn of Africa drought.