A girl walks through a corn field in Deschapelles, Haiti, last June. Funding delays, a dysfunctional central government and transportation problems along crumbling rural roads are keeping aid from reaching critical areas such as the fertile Artibonite Valley, Haiti’s most fertile region, where one out of three children are malnourished. (AP photo/Ariana Cubillos)
|Silvieta Saintera holds her son Fradelson, 2, who suffers from malnutrition, at the Albert Schweitzer hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti, in June. (AP photo/Ariana Cubillos)
DESCHAPELLES, Haiti — Every inch of Rivilade Filsame’s body hurt, from his swollen, empty stomach to his dried-out, wrinkled skin. The 18-month-old had been crying for so long in the hospital’s malnutrition ward that his mother no longer tried to console him.
After soaring food prices led to deadly riots in April, the U.S. and the U.N. promised millions of dollars in aid to poor families like Rivilade’s, as well as help for farmers to break Haiti’s dependence on imported food.
But three months later, The Associated Press has learned that only a fraction of a key U.S. food pledge — less than 2 percent as of early July — has been distributed.
Even those who oversee the food aid programs say they are stopgap measures, while programs to create jobs and help Haitian farmers to increase production are more critical to ending the country’s chronic hunger once and for all.
But right now, aid workers say, the poorest families need immediate help, and little of the emergency food promised has reached them. Most of what has reached Haiti is stuck in port. Nearly all the rest is still inside warehouses — victim of high fuel prices, bad roads and a weak national government.
Barely any food at all has gone to the desperate countryside, where more than half of Haiti’s 8.7 million people live.
Even in the Artibonite Valley, Haiti’s most fertile region, child malnutrition is rampant. Farmers — reeling from last year’s floods and a dry spring, and lacking equipment that was promised to increase their yields — are eating the very seeds they should be planting to avoid future hunger.
One child in three is malnourished in the most rural areas of the Artibonite Valley, according to the Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Deschapelles, where Rivilade was treated in June. Doctors there admitted 113 children to the malnutrition ward from May through June, almost two and a half times more than last year. In April and May alone, there were 361 children under five who were severely malnourished and more than 2,500 others moderately so.
“Kids who would have been moderately malnourished last year are severely malnourished this year,” said hospital official Adeline Azrack. “Families that were once just vulnerable are now in crisis.”
With families eating through their meager food savings and with the hurricane season in full swing, the food riots could be returning. Last Thursday, U.N. police said, a small group of demonstrators burned tires and threw rocks at police and U.N. peacekeepers in Les Cayes, where the April riots began.(p2)
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