NEW YORK and LONDON -- On the eve of a major donors' conference March 31 at the United Nations that will help decide the future of earthquake-devastated Haiti, humanitarian agencies Church World Service and Christian Aid are calling for greater focus on food security and agriculture and the creation of a core commission of respected Haitian citizens to help oversee work and ensure that any proposed reconstruction plan "stay the course" and show impartiality in efforts to rebuild Haiti.
Such a commission, representing a wide spectrum of civil society, would help ensure Haitian control over reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, while also ensuring measures of transparency and accountability.
In a joint statement, "Building a Better Haiti," New York-based Church World Service and London-based Christian Aid also say that the Haitian government's proposed Plan for Haiti Recovery and Reconstruction that will be discussed at the UN this week does not go far enough in addressing the critical issues of food and nutrition security, a problem that existed in Haiti before the earthquake.
"In prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable populations, the Plan for Action does not pay full attention to the need for adequate nutrition, particularly for pregnant and lactating mothers, and for children under five years of age -- those who represent Haiti's future," said John L. McCullough, executive director and CEO of CWS, which has a long history of responding to problems of hunger and malnutrition in some of the world's poorest countries.
McCullough says the Haiti plan "must treat nutrition as an integral part of food security planning and solutions, not just as a health intervention for high risk seasons. Provisions need to include a focus on diversified food crops as well as ongoing community-based nutrition education and supplementation programs to treat malnutrition."
Both Church World Service and Christian Aid, which have responded to emergency needs in Haiti since the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake as members of the ACT Alliance, agree that priority attention should be paid to the need for investment in agriculture and ongoing nutrition programs.
In general, the agencies said, long-term food security in Haiti depends at least partly on strengthening the lives of those living in rural areas and support for existing, successful small holder farming communities, so they can expand their farming and markets overall and be better able to accommodate those from urban areas who might be migrating to rural areas.
Since the earthquake, more than 500,000 residents of Port-au-Prince have reportedly left the devastated capital city and are now living in rural areas. However, the two NGOs said, it can't be expected that those who migrated to rural areas after the earthquake will all stay there and become farmers.
For the poor remaining in affected cities, supports to develop urban gardens should be part of a food security plan, they said.
"But make no mistake," CWS's McCullough said, "Food security is not just about agriculture. It's about building diverse sources of income for people in rural and urban settings.
"Investments and strategies must support planned growth of non-food industries, viable markets both domestic and foreign, and the jobs they create," he said. But both Church World Service and Christian Aid stress that the primary objective of new business development within Haiti must be to help Haitians get back on their feet, not just to benefit foreign investors.
The two agencies say that any plan to reconstruct Haiti must be undergirded by the recognition that the hundreds of millions of dollars promised by donors need to be used to create new and sustainably better lives for Haitians.
The role of the Haitian state is crucial in that work, say Church World Service and Christian Aid, but equally so is support from and active coordination with local Haitian civil society, the Haitian Diaspora and the international community. The two agencies are underscoring the need for hiring local workers in immediate, short-term and long-term rehabilitation, to guarantee a better Haiti for future generations.
“There will be a huge sense of frustration if there is not clear evidence that the millions of dollars raised around the world to help Haiti are being spent on helping the most vulnerable. The best way to identify and meet the needs of the poorest in Haiti is with the help of Haitian NGOs and grassroots organizations who have operated there for decades. That is why Christian Aid is committed to working with local partners,” explained Prospery Raymond, who has been running Christian Aid’s Haiti program for the past three years.
The two agency partners stress the necessity for Haiti's recovery to integrate disaster risk reduction mechanisms and climate change adaptation programs like reforestation, to prevent the repeated cycles of destruction and tragic loss of lives that have haunted Haiti in the past.
CWS's McCullough added that the issue of land rights in Haiti needs to focus on women's land tenure and property rights and their access to legal identity documents.
On the overall issue of the status of women in Haiti, the two agencies said comprehensive approaches are needed to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against women; address health needs of Haitian women; and address educational needs of Haitian children.
Attention must also be paid to improving access to all public services for those with disabilities -- a growing population given the numbers of those who were injured during and after the quake.
Church World Service is a relief, development and refugee assistance agency working with local partners in countries worldwide, supported by public donations, grants, and by 36 Christian denominations and communions in the United States. Church World Service's work in Haiti dates back to 1954.
Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 50 countries. It acts where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the life they deserve.
(For the complete statement, Building a Better Haiti, see: www.churchworldservice.org/haitistatement