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Aid shortfalls jeopardize Haiti’s humanitarian programs

For the first time since four back-to-back storms and hurricanes battered Haiti five years ago, the U.N.’s lead feeding program and other agencies don’t have enough food to stockpile in strategic areas before a major storm hits.

In some of the most remote corners of the country, people are dying needlessly of cholera because treatment centers have been abandoned, aid groups have disappeared and community health aides tasked with helping prevent the deadly waterborne-disease haven’t been paid in months.

And in hundreds of post-earthquake camps, Haitians hoping to trade in their 3-year-old tarps for a roof over their heads soon could have their hopes dashed as international aid workers are laid off and money for rental subsidies dries up.

A lack of donor response to Haiti’s ongoing humanitarian crisis is crippling everything from hurricane preparedness to cholera treatment programs to camp relocation efforts, and putting at risk the humanitarian gains made in recent years, the heads of U.N. humanitarian agencies say.

This worrying reality comes as 320,050 Haitians displaced by the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake remain in tent cities and at a time when more Haitians are at risk of hunger and malnutrition because of a disappointing winter harvest coupled with the ongoing impact of last year’s tropical storms and drought.

“The situation is quite deplorable and that is mostly due to a lack of funding,” said Oliver Schulz, head of mission for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti. “Three years after the earthquake, the situation should be better, not worse.”

Last month, the French-based medical group, which is independently funded, sounded the alarm. It said that cholera-related deaths were four times the acceptable rate and evaluations of public health facilities in four Haiti departments — Artibonite, Nippes, Southeast and North — showed that the quality of cholera treatment had declined significantly due to a shortage of funds.

With May traditionally one of the wettest months, greater outbreaks of the deadly disease are likely, the group warned. Already, cholera has killed more than 8,000 Haitians and sickened more than 653,000.

“More and more organizations have left and this is causing us problems,” Schulz said referring to the nongovernmental organizations or NGOs that flooded Haiti in the wake of the quake.

Just as pressing as the cholera threat in a country that lacks proper sanitation and drinking water is food security. After last year’s weather-related disasters, malnutrition rates are increasing and food shortages are affecting seven out of 10 departments in the country, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said earlier this month.

Aid appeals by the U.N. and Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe have gone largely unanswered. For some donors, the lack of response is due to the increasing pressure of other humanitarian emergencies around the globe. Others are concerned about the Haitian government’s ability to effectively use the funds.

“The situation is bad,” said Gary Mathieu, head of Haiti’s National Food Security Coordination unit.

Mathieu said that last year Hurricane Isaac and Sandy, which just brushed Haiti, caused $250 million in losses in the agriculture sector and left 1.5 million Haitians without enough food to eat.

The government, with help from NGOs, has been able to help about 700,000 people, he said. But 800,000 are still waiting for assistance.

Making matters worse was this winter’s disappointing harvest.

“In some cases, it hasn’t rained between November and now,” said Myrta Kaulard, country director for the World Food Program. “The satellite imagery is showing some parts of Haiti have started to be green again, but experts are saying that this time of year, the satellite imagery should show more green spots than what we can see now; so it means the rains have started late.”

But it will be June and July before the impact of the rains is known. In the meantime, Kaulard said WFP is dipping into its emergency reserves to feed the population, which is also reeling from rising food prices and steep unemployment.

In December, 80,000 schoolchildren received food for five members of their families, allowing 400,000 Haitians to be fed. Current distributions are targeting 200,000 Haitians through 40,000 schoolchildren. Nothing has happened to warrant the decrease, Kaulard said. It’s just what WFP can afford.

“What we are using now for this round of distribution is the stock we would have used to preposition food for the hurricane season,” she said. “By July, we will have all of our warehouses empty. That is really when the hurricane season is starting.”

WFP, she said, needs $3.7 million to have stocks ready for the June 1 start of the hurricane season, $2 million to continue its feeding programs, and another $5 million for a cash-for-work program.

To cope with the food crisis, Kaulard said Haitians are chopping down trees for charcoal, flooding the local market so much that the price of charcoal has dropped. Others living along the Haiti-Dominican Republic border towns are eating poor quality rice that’s usually used as chicken feed because it’s all they can afford.

Of $144 million requested by the United Nations in a 2013 Haiti humanitarian appeal, only $32 million was funded, according to U.N. data. And of $5.4 billion pledged after the earthquake, only around 56 percent had been disbursed as of December, according to the U.N.’s Office of the Secretary General’s Haiti Special Adviser.

Lamothe, who met with donors last week during a six-day tour of the United States, reiterated his call for the international community to make good on its pledges.

“It’s very easy at the start of an emergency. People come to you and ask, ‘How much do you need?’ ” said Vlatko Avramovski, who runs the database collection system for the U.N.-affiliated International Organization for Migration that has been key in tracking the displaced and helping donors and the government relocate people from camps to homes and plan housing initiatives.

Earlier this month, IOM received $1.2 million from Canada to help with its funding shortfall. It is still appealing for $900,000 to ensure the continuity of its tracking efforts at least until June 2014.

“The donor community is responding to many complex emergencies,” Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Program, told The Miami Herald, referring to the war in Syria and the crisis in Central Africa, among others.

Clark said the current humanitarian challenges in Haiti point up the need for a new initiative she and six other top international officials unveiled in Haiti on Sunday. The initiative touts the need to invest in disaster-risk reduction.

The seven-member delegation is called the “Political Champions for Disaster Resilience,” and includes the head of the Caribbean Community and the British Secretary of State for International Development, among others. Their goal, said Clark, is not just to keep the international spotlight on Haiti, but to support governments in their efforts to reduce a country’s vulnerability to natural disasters by helping prioritize strategies and budgets to reduce disasters.

“We want to encourage Haiti in the efforts it is making,” she said. “If donors can see that a country itself is prepared to invest, that really makes the case for backing them.”