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Sharp increase in food assistance needs following major earthquake

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  • Haiti
  • September 10, 2021
Sharp increase in food assistance needs following major earthquake

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Food assistance needs have sharply increased in Haiti following the August 14 earthquake in the southwest of the country. The earthquake caused the loss of human life, displaced thousands of people, destroyed infrastructure and assets, and disrupted market functioning, trade routes, and typical livelihood activities. On August 16, tropical depression Grace then hit the earthquake-affected regions of Haiti. While the storm did not directly affect households’ own food and cash income sources, it did slow relief efforts and destroy the temporary housing of displaced populations. This comes on top of high food prices and sociopolitical instability, which were already driving food assistance needs in Haiti. Overall, FEWS NET expects the population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through December 2021 has increased 50 percent compared to before the earthquake, with around 10 percent of the national population now in need of food assistance. The greatest need is concentrated in the department of Sud. Large-scale humanitarian food assistance and livelihoods support in the form of seeds and productive assets is urgently needed through at least early 2022 to protect lives and livelihoods.

In mid-August, the southwest of Haiti experienced back-to-back shocks, including a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and a tropical depression. Of the two, the earthquake has most significantly affected food availability and access among poor households in the regions of South, Grand’Anse, and Nippes. According to the Civil Protection Office, the earthquake caused 2,207 deaths and affected more than 137,000 households through the destruction of homes or loss of a family member. The earthquake also caused localized crop damage and disrupted planting for the upcoming fall season; destroyed stocks and disrupted trade flows, resulting in lower market supply and higher food prices; and halted many income-earning opportunities.

While most crops from the spring season had been harvested by July, prior to the earthquake, the Ministry of Agriculture reported that some early-planted fall crops in mountainous areas - including banana, yam, manioc, potato - were destroyed by landslides. The damage to maize and pea crops is relatively low, though these losses were likely among poorer farmers who depend on these crops and associated agricultural labor as a primary source of food and cash income. Further sowing for the fall season has largely halted in affected areas to focus on earthquake relief efforts and, in mountainous areas, because of landslide-related soil erosion. Furthermore, many households lost agricultural tools and seeds in the earthquake, further restricting their capacity to engage in the upcoming fall agricultural season.  

The majority of typical livelihood activities in earthquake-affected areas are disrupted. While reports from key informants indicate that petty trade and the sale of charcoal have recovered to near-normal levels, other income-generating activities, particularly in the transportation and tourism sectors, are paralyzed, especially in the cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie. In rural areas, poor households typically rely on agricultural labor or the sale of crops as a key source of income at this time of year, and damaged roads and markets are reducing poor households’ capacity to generate income. Labor opportunities for the fall agricultural season are also low.

Ports and airport infrastructure, including the key port in Port-au-Prince, were not critically damaged, and imports are likely to continue fulfilling local food requirements. However, several markets suffered significant structural damage, most notably Les Cayes, where reports indicate traders were forced to sell their products on the streets. Additionally, road damage, such as the destruction of national route 7 linking Jeremie and Les Cayes, is disrupting the flow of goods from Grand’Anse to Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince. Overall, some prices – including local red beans and sorghum – increased five to ten percent in August relative to July in Cayes and Jeremie, and imported oil, pasta, and sugar prices increased five to 15 percent, likely associated with severe infrastructure damage. Ground reports suggest market activity is recovering, especially in Jeremie, though remaining severe damage to the road and market infrastructure, subsequent reduced activity, and localized production losses are expected to put upward pressure on staple food prices in the following weeks and hinder food access for poor households who have reduced income and increased expenses for rebuilding their livelihoods.

Humanitarian assistance is being distributed in all affected areas, which is supporting food access in the near-term. However, looting of assistance along major roads by communities frustrated with lack of assistance is delaying assistance delivery to worst-affected communities further from Port-Au-Prince. In the medium- to long-term, poor households who have been displaced or lost productive livelihood assets, along with urban households in the transportation and tourism sector, will face reduced incomes and difficulty meeting their food needs amid already high staple food prices. Overall, FEWS NET anticipates that around 10 percent of Haiti’s population is in need of humanitarian food assistance. Communities worst-affected by the resulting food security crisis include La Borde, Fonfred, Mercy, Les Cayes, Ile-à-Vache, Maniche, Camp-Perrin, Anse-à-Veau, Baradères, and Petit-Trou de Nippes. Large-scale emergency food assistance and livelihoods support, including seeds and productive assets, is urgently needed through at least early 2022 to protect lives and livelihoods in earthquake-affected regions. 


Figure 1

Figure 1

Source: OCHA

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