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Haitians plunging deeper into starvation amid COVID-19

Dr. David Vanderpool is founder and CEO of LiveBeyond.
Dr. David Vanderpool is founder and CEO of LiveBeyond.

Recently, global monitors issued dire warnings regarding food shortages in Haiti. They found that presently 42% of Haitians are facing a high level of food insecurity. These 4 million people urgently need food supplementation and will continue to suffer if they don't receive it quickly. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification predicts that the continuing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will force another 400,000 Haitians deeper into starvation1. Many of these are children who depend on adequate nutrition to achieve proper growth and brain development.

These dire predictions are echoed by other organizations as well. The World Food Programme estimated in 2018 that half of Haiti's population was undernourished and projects a similar downward trend in food security in the future2.  Our research has shown regional variations in Haiti's malnutrition, with children being the most affected by severe malnutrition3.

While Haiti consistently experiences a high level of chronic food insecurity, acute episodes of food shortages devastate the vulnerable populations. Annual hurricanes and political instability persistently harm the vulnerable. These acute occurrences deepen the cycle of malnutrition. International support can serve to improve these acute episodes. For example, the earthquake of 2010 produced severe food shortages but was followed by such a dramatic worldwide outpouring of support that it actually served to ease the malnutrition problem in the short term.

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The new acute scourge against Haiti's nutrition struggle is Covid-19. Presently, the viral pandemic has killed over a million people, infected over 40 million people globally, and has disrupted food production and supply chain mechanics worldwide. These disruptions are the root cause of the projected increase in malnutrition cases in Haiti4.

One such casualty of this disruption is a little four-year-old girl named Berline, who was recently brought to our hospital in Thomazeau, Haiti. Her impoverished family had long experienced food insecurity and had entirely run out of food days before. Berline was listless, dehydrated, and barely able to sit up. As our medical team examined her, they found that she weighed only ten pounds, 30% of her recommended weight. We quickly began emergency treatment, and the little girl began to revive. Soon, she was well enough to enter our child nutrition program, where she joined many other children who had at one time been at death's door due to starvation.

To avoid starvation in tens of thousands of children like Berline, we must quickly implement the following steps:

  • Urgently fund non-profit organizations that efficiently feed large numbers of vulnerable people. There are excellent non-profit organizations who successfully do this work. During the pandemic, many of these organizations are facing decreased funding due to the downturn in the U.S. economy. Restoring these funds will help these organizations supplement the daily food rations of the millions of people worldwide who suffer from starvation.
  • Encourage your Congressmen and women to increase funding for emergency food aid to developing countries like Haiti. Often, as we Americans begin to sense economic instability at home, we limit the funding for these programs, which provide lifesaving nutrition to so many vulnerable people.
  • Finally, support policies that promote sustainable solutions to food insecurity, such as improved agricultural education for local farmers and advanced economic principles for their governments. These changes can effectively increase their local food supply and provide an enhanced level of stability in their currency.

If implemented, these principles can lift developing countries from the threat of constant hunger to a level of independence by which they provide for their own citizens. Without the need for subsidies, they can focus their attention on strengthening their resilience to the effects of future disasters.

Adequate nutrition is every child's right. If we all work together, we can eliminate child hunger throughout the world.

3. Assessing Childhood Malnutrition in Haiti: Meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goal #4. Bush, R.L., Tresselt, E.L., Popatia, S.S., Crain, E.R., Russel, C.T., Copeland, L.A., Vanderpool, D.M., Global Journal of Medicine and Public Health. Vol 4, No. 2 2015.

David Vanderpool, MD is a surgeon and CEO of LiveBeyond, a Christian humanitarian aid organization based in Nashville, TN.  Dr. Vanderpool and his wife, Laurie, have lived in Thomazeau, Haiti fulltime for 7 years.

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