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Food Aid Phase Over For Haiti, Focus Should Be On Jobs, Hurricane Season Preparation, Schools, Haitian President Says

At their meeting on Wednesday, Haitian President Rene Preval is expected to ask President Barack Obama to stop food aid to Haiti, Reuters reports. “Preval told a news conference on Monday the aid could in the long term hurt the economy of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. ‘I will tell him (Obama) that this first phase of assistance is finished,’ said Preval,” according to the news service.

“If they continue to send us aid from abroad – water and food – it will be in competition with the national Haitian production and Haitian commerce,” he said, adding that job creation should be the priority (Bigg, 3/8).

He noted preparation for the hurricane season, which starts in June, and resumption of schooling as other priorities, Agence France-Presse reports. Preval said he plans to thank Obama “for the aid that was spontaneously given by all the international community and by the United States in particular.” According to the news service, Preval “flew to Washington [Monday] where he was to meet various U.S. lawmakers and officials, including Secretary of State Hillary [Rodham] Clinton, before seeing Obama on Wednesday” (Burleigh, 3/9). 

Ahead of Preval’s visit with Obama, Inter Press Service examines the efforts on Capitol Hill aimed at assisting Haiti. “The United States – both through the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development – has so far spent more than 700 million dollars in humanitarian aid and its delivery, according to the latest government figures released last week,” IPS reports.

“The administration is currently drafting a supplemental 2010 foreign aid bill that is likely to include hundreds of millions of dollars more for reconstruction assistance, but officials here said it was unlikely the precise request – which must still be submitted to Congress for approval – will be announced at or before Wednesday’s meeting,” IPS reports (Lobe, 3/8).

In related news, Greenwire/New York Times examines agriculture and food aid in Haiti. “The farm economy here and elsewhere in rural Haiti has been in a 20-year nose dive. A nation that once easily fed itself has become dependent on imports and food aid for 75 percent of its needs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Greenwire/New York Times writes.

“The Haitian government has long ignored its rural areas, leaving once-vital roads to turn into something resembling parched riverbeds. Farmers here say transportation is so difficult and costly that they long ago stopped shipping produce to the capital, Port-au-Prince, which is about 50 miles away to the southwest. Meanwhile, farms often flood as tropical downpours wash mud waves from deforested hillsides into cultivated fields,” the news service reports.

The article looks at the factors that led to the decline of Haitian agriculture. It also reports on local farming cooperatives and the efforts of relief groups that have mobilized to provide Haitians with food since the earthquake.

“World Vision, USAID and the United Nations all insist that the coming rush of free food won’t compete with local farmers but will instead help feed populations that the rural communities cannot support. Over time, the World Food Programme promises to purchase more food aid locally as a means to promote Haiti’s agricultural economy and restore its broken links to urban markets,” according to the article (Gronewold, 3/8). 

In Port-au-Prince, “U.S. structural engineers, including earthquake specialists from California, are putting their Haitian counterparts through a crash course on how to assess earthquake damage and determine whether a property is safe to live in,” the Los Angeles Times writes.

“The immediate goal is to get thousands of displaced residents to move back into houses that are livable, relieving pressure on the 300-plus impromptu encampments before the impending spring rains. An untold number of people are living in tents or under tarps even though their homes suffered relatively light damage. … Planners hoped to have 200 engineers out on the streets by the end of last week, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Blackwell of the military-civilian Joint Task Force in Haiti, which is also inspecting properties and conducting damage assessment training,” the newspaper reports (Ellingwood, 3/9).

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