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Punishing Drought Leaves Haitians Desperate for Food
For the last three years, a punishing drought has driven Haitians who were barely getting by on marginal farmland even deeper into misery.
Carole Joseph holds her toddler twins, Angelo, left, and Angela, after visiting a local health center to examine her children for signs of malnutrition, in Oriani, Haiti on Feb. 15. The 28-year-old mother of four, is among roughly 1.5 million Haitians who can't get nearly enough nutrition because of a years long drought that has spoiled harvests in her small mountain village and across large sections of the countryside. Over the last year, the situation worsened significantly with a strong El Nino weather phenomenon that's been disrupting weather patterns across the globe, leaving many places in Latin America and the Caribbean stricken by drought.
The dry, cracked lake bed of Trou Caiman, in Croix-des-Bouquets, on Feb. 20. The drought has driven Haitians who were already barely getting by on marginal farmland deeper into misery. People are going hungry as crop yields fall to the lowest levels in 35 years in a country where two-thirds of people eke out a living from agriculture.
Roodymanche Lomane plants potatoes in his small vegetable plot, in Oriani, on Feb. 15. Local agricultural production has contracted so severely over the last two years that 70 percent of the crops consumed in Haiti are now imported, up from roughly 50 percent in the past. With the local currency losing value, the cost of imports is rising, making everything pricier.
Community health volunteer Sylvio Fils-Aime examines a child for signs of malnutrition, in Oriani, on Feb. 15. Diminishing calories means more children are vulnerable to infections like measles and any number of other diseases. Haiti has long struggled with malnutrition as a result of widespread poverty, political dysfunction and corruption, and a fragile agricultural sector repeatedly set back by severe weather and environmental degradation. Punishing weather is only expected to intensify as a result of global climate change.
Carole Joseph sits next to her four-year-old niece Jana as she nurses her toddler twins, on the front porch of their home, in Oriani, on Feb. 15. "We get a little bit to eat and drink each day, but it's never enough to get our strength back. I don't know what to do anymore," she said, her voice hoarse as she cradled her toddler twins, their hair brittle and taking on a yellowish tinge, a sign of malnutrition. Her 2-year-old twins have missed developmental milestones such as taking their first steps or uttering their first words. Joseph is so underfed and dehydrated that she can't produce milk. "I only nurse them to comfort them," she said.
Vendors cull through bunches of carrots, to sell at a local street market in Oriani, on Feb. 15. Only shriveled carrots and potatoes grow in most of the town's vegetable plots. Many Haitians routinely go to bed hungry, and are heartbreakingly accustomed to privation and natural disasters. But the cumulative impact of this drought is so severe that Haiti is facing "unprecedented food insecurity," according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
A man pours water he collected from a nearby river, pictured in background, into a larger receptacle, in Fonds Verrettes, on Feb. 15. Even if the rainfall during the spring rainy season is steady, farming families in Oriani and other towns will have to struggle to get by until the summer harvest. Last week, the U.N. weather agency said the ongoing El Nino has passed its peak, but its "humanitarian and economic impacts will continue for many months to come."