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Haiti plagued by unprecedented drought

The Solidarités International team explains the water distribution and food assistance process to residents of Savane Zombi, Haiti. © European Union/ECHO/H. April 2015

Although Haiti has made significant progress since the earthquake that killed 222 750 people on 12 January 2010, some serious humanitarian needs persist. The climatic phenomenon El Niño, in particular, is aggravating an unprecedented drought that has killed livestock and is jeopardising the food security of almost a half million Haitians. The European Commission, through its partner Solidarités International, supports some of the most vulnerable populations through a food and water distribution to help face the coming months.

Hilaire Avril, Regional Information Officer for Latin America and Caribbean, ECHO @ECHO_LatAm

Hispaniola – the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic – has not seen substantial rain for ten months, or more depending on the region.

"The last such severe drought was in 1986," explains Zania, a farmer from the municipality of Bony, near the southern coast of Haiti and its border with the Dominican Republic, where the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) supports the distribution of coupons to be exchanged for food, a programme implemented by humanitarian partner Solidarités International.

"But at least 30 years ago, the cattle did not die," Zania regrets. "This year, we lost our cows, our goats, even the chickens died of thirst," she says, hands crossed on her chest.

According to a report in August by the Haitian Ministry of Interior: "Since 2011, many reports indicate a significant increase in adverse effects of the drought phenomenon nationwide. The crisis generated manifests itself in particular by an insufficient and irregular distribution of rainfall over most of the territory: lack of rain in some areas, an early end to the rainy season or late onset in others."

The harsh drought lasting for months already has been aggravated by the El Niño phenomenon, particularly persistent in 2015. Between 300 000 and 665 000 Haitians suffer from serious food insecurity. And future prospects are bad.

Potatoes will not grow, and seeds dry out before sprouting. The rocky soil seems chalky, as if bleached by the sun. Most families have reduced their number of daily meals, and some children no longer go to school, families can no longer afford school expenses (uniforms, supplies, transportation, lunch ...).

The intervention implemented by Solidarités International and funded by the European Commission responds to the food crisis affecting the most vulnerable. Local committees have been formed so that inhabitants themselves can identify the households most in need: single mothers, pregnant or breastfeeding women.

In the communes of Belle Anse, Grand Gosier, Thiotte or Anse-à-Pitres, Solidarités provides food assistance to 1 500 households, or about 7 500 people. The most affected families receive food vouchers for three months which they exchange for dry goods (rice, peas ...) or for fresh products on market days from traders accredited by the programme (and guaranteeing a price ceiling for the beneficiaries of the programme) at the weekly markets held in 12 south-east communities.

During a recent field visit by María Bernardez – European Commission expert in food security –, Gertha showed her beneficiary card, which allowed her to get three pots (pot weighing about 2.5 kg) of rice, three pots of corn, beans, oil and sugar. The necessary for the survival of her family for a few weeks, she said.

Renette's family, instead, is one of 1 000 households who have obtained an improved stove, which minimises firewood or coal needed for daily cooking – valuable savings for poor families with next to no resources.

Renette receives an improved stove, Anse à Pitre, southeast Haiti. © European Union/ECHO/ M. Bernardez 2015

Similarly, for three months Solidarités International has distributed drinking water to 4 250 people, thanks to deliveries with tankers. Mothers of Anse-à-Pitres explain that their usual water source has dried up, for the first time in living memory. Up to now they have paid a local courier who delivered water by motorcycle from a source three hours drive away. They paid 280 Haitian gourdes for 30 gallons of precious water (113.4 liters), which only lasted a day or two – almost €5, a fortune.

But despite this support, agricultural production has been lost for the third consecutive time since 2014, due to lack of rain and despite the support in the form of seeds distributed by Solidarités International.

Without food and with dead livestock, residents from the southeast say they survive through the cutting and sale of charcoal – a survival mechanism that has the effect of increasing deforestation on the island, erosion and the vulnerability of crops.

A vicious cycle exacerbated by the arrival of hundreds of families evicted from the neighbouring Dominican Republic which has increased the pressure on scarce water resources in the southeast region of Haiti.