Drought threatens population in the northwest of Haiti

PORT-DE-PAIX, Haiti (Reuters) – Only cactus grows along the dirt road fringing arid fields on the way to the isolated village of Bas des Moustiques, on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Port-de-Paix in Haiti.

A lack of rain in recent months has killed crops in Haiti’s poorest region, and left people struggling to survive.

Julia Sodietra, 41, has lost hope as she fights a losing battle to provide for her large family.

“When I want to buy some food, people refuse and insult me because I have not been able to pay my debts,” said Sodietra, the mother of 11.

“I can’t pay school fees anymore for my children,” she added. “Even buying clothes and shoes is impossible for me.

What I am going to say is horrible, but I would rather not have my children.”

The drought follows two years of poor harvests in the region.

“I had a donkey that I used to transport coal, but it died because I could not buy food,” said Charitable Yvner, 30. “So I can no longer work and the little money I saved has run out. My four children are weak and cannot concentrate in school.”

Historically, food has been sparse in northwestern Haiti, where chronic malnutrition is common among the young, stunting their physical and intellectual growth.

Now the drought is directly affecting an additional 143,000 people, say international relief experts, prompting a major emergency operation by the UN’s World Food Programme.

“They are now in a terrible situation,” said Georg-Friedrich Heymell, the Programme’s director in Haiti. “They cannot survive without support. The food we give them will help them for the next six weeks.”

With a population of 11 million, Haiti ranked 161 among 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index in 2012.

“Three-quarters of Haitians live on less than $2 per day and half of the population earns less than $1 per day,” the WFP says. “In rural areas, almost 90 per cent live below the poverty level and basic social services are practically nonexistent.”

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