Monday, September 22, 2008

Farrow Highlights Haiti's Hunger Crisis

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ACTOR Mia Farrow is in Haiti to draw attention to the millions of people threatened with acute hunger after the once-in-a-century chain of four tropical storms wiped out most of the poor nation's food crops.

Farrow yesterday visited a mud-filled cathedral in Gonaives, where hundreds of storm victims have lived since early this month.

The storms killed at least 425 people, destroyed thousands of homes and 60 per cent of the island's agriculture.

The UN has distributed food and water to 240,000 people, but raised only 2 per cent of its $134 million aid goal.

"The system of agriculture has been destroyed," said Agriculture Minister Joanas Gue. Aid agencies and diplomats said Haiti desperately needed help to avert mass hunger.

Emergency aid has flowed in to people directly affected by Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, storms that triggered flooding and killed at least 425 people in less than a month, including 194 in the critical rice-growing Artibonite Valley.

Much more money is needed, with farms damaged or destroyed across the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

"This will take billions of dollars. This is not something small," US Agency for International Development Administrator Henrietta Fore said.

Schools that were supposed to open early this month were still filled with refugees fighting over scraps of food aid. Much of Gonaives, the nation's fourth-largest city, remains flooded and without electricity. Malaria and other diseases are beginning to spread.

"The scope of this is frankly unimaginable in many countries," said US ambassador Janet Sanderson. "A lot of the progress of the last couple of years has been swept away by these waters."

The US has given $36million in food aid and humanitarian assistance, and countries such as Colombia have airlifted food and clothing. UN agencies have delivered food to more than 240,000 people, aided by soldiers of its 9000-strong peacekeeping force and military ships such as the USS Kearsarge and Canada's HMCS St Johns.

Mr Gue, the agriculture minister, estimates that 60 per cent of this year's food harvest has been wiped out by the storms, which hit just as farmers were preparing to collect corn, plantains and yams from their fields. The autumn rice harvest was lost as well.

The damage could be felt for years, with mountain topsoil, already loosened by rampant deforestation, washed out to sea. Hundreds of irrigation basins, canals and pumping stations were damaged, and about 10,000 tonnes of discounted fertiliser distributed to farmers disappeared. Altogether, Mr Gue estimated the storms had caused $224 million in damage to Haiti's agricultural sector.

Source: AP - TheAustralian.News.Com.Au

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