Melissa Harris-Perry: You're listening to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. In Haiti, rising food crisis is threatening nearly half the population with what the UN describes as severe hunger. Already considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere in just the last year, the nation of 11 million has endured political turmoil, natural disaster, and of course, the global pandemic. In July 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated. A month later in August, a 7.2 earthquake took the lives of over 2,000 Haitians and cost an estimated $2 billion in damages.
Just one month later, in September 2021, photos emerged of US Border Patrol agents aggressively turning back Haitian migrants at the US-Mexico border, riding horseback, and using crops like whips. Now, the island nation is in a hunger catastrophe. Roseval Supreme is Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Haiti.
Roseval Supreme: For a population of around 11 million, you have 4.9 almost 5 million people in the desperate situation means that for those Haitians, they will rely on mostly humanitarian workers, humanitarian organization like Action Against Hunger. One quick example I can give you, I was on the field as early as last week, I returned last Friday. Many beneficiaries were telling us that in addition to sending their children to the community canteen that we are doing, they have to come themselves to see if after we serve the children they can have a meal themselves because most of the time the meal that is being served in the community canteen to the children is the only meal that they have for the whole day.
That's just an anecdote to tell you how the situation is for those citizens who desperately need support to feed their family on a daily basis.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Help us understand some of the recent factors contributing to this hunger.
Roseval Supreme: They're quite diverse. One of the first would be that, as you know, because of the change in climate that is significantly affecting Haiti, where you have significantly long drought in part of the country where people heavily rely on agriculture but in other parts, you have severe flood. Let alone that agriculture, Haiti is heavily depending on the rainy season that is being shifted for some time now. It's a mixed bag. In Haiti, insecurity also is a big factor that discourage farmers to cultivate the land because even if you would be very persistent as a farmer, living in the south or north part of the country.
You definitely have all the reason to worry that you can't bring your production in the big market in order to take out your family because of the insecurity situation, people cannot use the road, the trucks on the market, the South is blocked because of the gang violence. In the central part of the country, we take the national world number one, it's the same thing. Obviously, we still see people who insist to find ways to access the market but again, the inflation where you have price of regular goods like bread, eggs, or simple banana, almost double. It is definitely something that affects all this segment of the population but mostly, the vulnerable people who live under the poverty line.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is Haiti a net importer or exporter of food?
Roseval Supreme: In Haiti, we import approximately 55% to 60% of our food needs. It's heavily dependent on importation. Rather than lowering the price of export, it will tend to increase because of this problem of accessing to market that the farmers are facing but also because of the global effect of the climate conditions in Haiti, and level on the fact that the farmers do not have any support to help them access agricultural inputs. I guess it's a mixed bag. In Haiti, you naturally have to import a lot of the goods that you use to feed the population.
At the same time, you also would need to have some serious program to support agriculture in order to be able to find a proper balance between import and local production.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is there a reason to believe that the crisis in Ukraine could actually make this problem worse?
Roseval Supreme: Oh, yes. I'd say that's a legitimate concern because as you know, the crisis in Ukraine in various ways would affect countries like Haiti. The first would be as we heavily rely on importation and all the wheat we would use and many other commodities that we would import with increasing price, they might not be able to reach the country at all or not on time. The most important element is that being so dependent on humanitarian assistance, on the international community supporting Haiti. We have serious risk that all those support for organization like Action Against Hunger might be lost very soon because you start observing a lot of focus on Ukraine, which is obviously understandable.
It's another country suffering for its own existence but at the same time, you would definitely advocate to have the right balance to avoid the situation that you're hearing in Haiti, while we are focusing on finding the proper solution to support and to stay in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm wondering about the fact that we are still in a global pandemic, is COVID-19 also impacting this crisis?
Roseval Supreme: COVID-19 is definitely a big concern everywhere in the world and also in Haiti, particularly knowing the sanitation conditions in Haiti. To be honest with you, there are reasons to believe that when we come to a proper formula with complete integration between the government agencies and international organizations like Action Against Hunger, we could do a better job or we can definitely avoid COVID-19 bring a lot of death in Haiti. We expect that if we have good leadership to take responsibility, and also to provide the appropriate means and support, COVID can definitely be addressed in a responsible way as we did for the cholera outbreak that was very devastating for the country as well a few years ago.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you talk about responsible leadership, I just want to understand also how all of this, both might be, in part caused by the political crisis that has been going on certainly with the assassination and still unresolved, and the ways that it may be causing additional political upheaval or crisis.
Roseval Supreme: Absolutely. That's also the challenge because, as you said, the political crisis in Haiti is honestly the driver of all the problems that we're facing almost at every level because if you do not have legitimate leaders in power to privatize and also to organize, it's a difficult environment to operate in. Again, it's our mission regardless of that, whatever happened we have to continue to find innovative ways to tackle the problems that the population is facing because we cannot turn our backs on them.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is there something that Haiti needs at this moment from the rest of the world?
Roseval Supreme: Actually, I can tell you that the biggest thing that Haiti needs now is solidarity from the international community. We also need people to understand that despite the desperate situation, their contribution to organizations like us that are actively contributing to improving the living conditions of people on a daily basis makes a difference. I think definitely it is not the time for our friends and ally to turn their back on us and forget about Haiti because the situation might really turn in a way that we do not want to see.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Roseval Supreme is Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Haiti. Thank you so much for your work and for joining us today.
Roseval Supreme: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you.
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