Almost six months after deadly Hurricane Matthew destroyed crops and livestock along Haiti’s southern peninsula, life has become so desperate that Haitians are eating poisonous plants and living in caves to survive, aid workers say.
On Wednesday, 240 people, including 84 women and 62 children, were found in a mountain cave near Fonds Rouge Dahere on the outskirts of Jérémie, the capital of Haiti’s Grand’Anse region. They were discovered by an agricultural director with the South-Florida based charity Food For The Poor, and had been living in the cave ever since Matthew’s 145-miles-per-hour winds hit the southern peninsula in October.
“They have no food. They have no water. They have no shelter,” said Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor. “It really is a crime against humanity.”
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The grim discovery came just days after the charity reported that at least 13 Haitians in the Grand’Anse had died over the past 10 days because of hurricane-related food shortages in the region.
“Families are turning in desperation to fruits and foliage known to be poisonous in an attempt to quell their hunger and save their lives,” the charity said in a press release.
Haiti’s current humanitarian situation is precarious and likely to get worse, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned.
“The vast majority of agricultural households have not recovered their means of production, their financial situation is rapidly deteriorating and their access to basic services has diminished considerably because of the end of emergency programs,” the U.N. humanitarian agency said in a report published last month.
While two out of three farmers in the Grand’Anse region lost three-fourths of their crops as a result of Matthew, the U.N. humanitarian agency also noted that 95 percent of farmers were unable to plant for the February or May harvest.
“Fruit trees have been severely damaged and will not produce this year,” the report said. “Cocoa trees and coffee farmers have weathered the hurricane as best they could, but will not produce this year.”
The Haitian government had estimated the losses to crops, livestock and infrastructure from Matthew — which also dealt a severe blow to the southwestern city of Les Cayes and its surrounding rural towns — to be $2.9 billion. A $139 million U.N. flash appeal in support of the immediate needs of 806,000 people, still lacks $53.5 million, according to the latest report.
On Friday, Food For The Poor sent trucks from its Port-au-Prince warehouses to deliver food, blankets, hygiene kits, kerosene stoves and tarps to the families who were relocated from the cave.
“The alarm needs to be sounded,” said David Adams, vice president for missions at Cross International, a Pompano Beach-based charity.
Adams spent three days this week visiting the Grand’Anse where he noted many in Jérémie were still living beneath tarps issued by the United States Agency for International Development.
“Jérémie is coping — barely,” he said. “It’s really in the remote areas where people are suffering. I don’t want to say there could be mass starvation right away, but we could start to see 10, 20 and 30 people at a time dying.
“Normal coping mechanisms are pretty much out of the window because people pretty much don’t have anything,” he added.
Adams said Cross International plans to send in two, 40-foot shipping containers filled with vitamin and soy-enriched foods to the Grand’Anse in the coming days. Food For The Poor also announced that it was sending an additional 100 containers of food every month for the next four months to feed people in the area.