Hunger spreads over Haiti: “I go to bed empty-Stomach”

Sarah Molin’s life is a poignant reflection of the challenges faced in Haiti.

One year ago, the young adult was studying computer science and residing in a suburban area near the capital city, Port-au-Prince.

However, the deteriorating state of Haiti has particularly impacted its young population.
The ongoing wave of extreme gang violence is the culmination of months of turmoil and political instability that have plagued the nation since the tragic murder of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

The ongoing conflict has resulted in a significant number of casualties, ranging from individuals whose remains are scattered across the streets, to families like Sarah’s who were displaced from their residence in August and currently reside in an abandoned cinema.

Approximately 100 families have established a temporary camp within the condemned building, which, under normal circumstances, would not be considered suitable for human habitation. There is a lack of basic amenities such as sewerage and running water, and Sarah expresses the urgency of their daily struggle to find food.
“Occasionally, we come across food, while other times, we’re not as fortunate,” she explains in a tired tone.
With her baby godson on her knee, surrounded by her extended family in the camp at the disused Rex Cinema, she exudes a sense of maturity beyond her years.
“I attend school without any food, enduring the day with an empty stomach, and retire to bed still feeling the pangs of hunger,” she explains.

There are numerous health issues affecting individuals in the camp. Sarah reports that there is an alarming spread of disease within their squatter community. Drugs and medicines can be quite costly, especially when individuals have limited funds for essential needs.

“We can support a family of four (all adults) for a day with just six dollars,” she explains. When they are unable to secure the necessary funds, they rely on limited donations and assistance. Even that can intensify Sarah’s feeling of grief rather than providing her with the empathy she desperately needs.
“At times, the staff’s demeanor suggests a sense of superiority when distributing aid, which can be quite disheartening,” she expresses, “it almost feels as if we are being judged for accepting assistance rather than receiving donations.”

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Sarah is among the many individuals who have been displaced within Haiti, numbering over 360,000.
Helicopter flights delivering aid from the Dominican Republic have started to arrive. However, due to the closure of the airport in Port-au-Prince and the port, a significantly larger amount is required on a weekly basis.

Just a few weeks ago, six-month-old Jeselin Joseph was in a very vulnerable nutritional state

The ongoing political deadlock persists after the departure of Prime Minister Ariel Henry. Haitians are frequently informed that a transitional council, supported by the US, consisting of seven members, is on the verge of materializing. However, the current administration in Haiti has yet to assume power or establish stability in the country.

As time passes without a resolution, the security situation deteriorates further into chaos.
Millions find themselves trapped in a tumultuous mix of political turmoil, unrest, lack of shelter, and food insecurity.

Seeking refuge from the storm, numerous individuals are making their way to Cap-Haitien, a coastal city in the north that has become a destination for thousands escaping the capital.

Cap-Haitien is relatively peaceful in terms of security. According to a senior city official, whenever gangs attempted to establish themselves in a neighborhood, they were promptly removed through effective police operations supported by the community.

However, the port city was already facing challenges in meeting the infrastructure demands of its own residents, especially in terms of water and power, even before it became the nation’s primary refuge.
Cap-Haitien appears to offer a better opportunity for children.

A few weeks ago, Jeselin Joseph, who was only six months old, was in a dangerously malnourished state. Luckily, when I encountered him, he was joyfully consuming a bottle of baby formula, his weight starting to come back. He still had signs of malnutrition in children, such as a slightly distended belly and sagging skin. But his grandmother Elvire Desir couldn’t help but laugh as he eagerly devoured his meal.

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Jeselin had a stroke of good fortune. He was receiving care at the residential malnutrition center of Second Mile, a local Haitian-run NGO. His mother has been unwell and unable to look after him. After recognizing the urgency of his situation through various indicators, such as arm circumference, the team promptly arranged for his transfer to a hospital where he received intravenous treatment.

Simple skills that could potentially save lives were imparted by the nutrition class instructor to families throughout Haiti

“We have the capacity to accommodate 22 families,” mentioned cofounder Jenn Schenk, as we strolled through their serene facility located near Cap-Haitien. “On average, mothers spend approximately four weeks with us.” However, we also conduct regular visits in their communities to continuously support the program and ensure that the children do not experience severe hunger again.

Everything appears to be functioning properly. Just a small percentage of the children who leave Second Mile may require readmission in the future due to malnutrition.

As we strolled, a nutrition class was taking place outside, sheltered by a corrugated iron roof. The instructor delivered a session in Creole, discussing strategies for maximizing the nutritional value of affordable foods, techniques for recognizing malnutrition in children, and methods for managing infant diarrhea. These practical and potentially life-saving lessons have the potential to benefit families throughout Haiti.

In light of the challenging circumstances, the team at Second Mile has taken proactive measures to secure emergency supplies before they become scarce, considering the limited assistance and the control exerted by gangs over the primary routes in and out of Port-au-Prince.

Despite the generous financial support from the international community, co-founder Jenn Schenk expresses concerns about the lack of progress in learning from Haiti’s previous experiences. Specifically, she highlights the problematic track record of aid agencies and international organizations in their response to the devastating 2010 earthquake, which claimed the lives of approximately 200,000 people.
“Many of these larger NGOs come and go quickly,” she says. “They receive a significant amount of supplies and aid, along with the necessary funds to hire additional personnel for distribution.”

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Jenn Schenk emphasizes the importance of learning from past mistakes in disaster response to prevent future occurrences

Jenn Schenk warns of a potential threat to the progress and unity achieved by smaller, locally run organizations like hers. She cautions against the allure of high-paying, yet temporary contracts that could undermine the efforts and teamwork built over the years.

“It would be more beneficial if they provided direct support to their staff members and allowed them to distribute aid, rather than relying on local NGOs for hiring.”

At this point, the flow of donations and human resources into Haiti is severely limited. The response remains frustratingly sluggish for individuals like Sarah Molin, who are trapped living under a tarpaulin in the capital.
Sarah has been greatly impacted by the ongoing gang violence in Haiti. It has stripped her of a place to live, a reliable means of earning money, and access to food: all the fundamental aspects of her former existence.
Now the turmoil endangers her future as well.
Sarah’s decision to halt her studies in computing is driven by the pressing need to support her family’s basic needs. Unfortunately, her education has become another casualty in a country facing significant challenges.

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