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41 Democrats ask USAID to expand food aid to Haiti

The Hill Article

A group of House Democrats called on the Biden administration to expand and improve food aid to Haiti, as nearly half that country’s population faces food insecurity.

In a letter to U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power on Monday, 41 Democrats said they “believe there is an urgent need for our government to act regarding food aid arriving in Haiti and U.S. food assistance policy more broadly.”

According to the United Nation’s World Food Programme, 4.4 million Haitians are at risk of hunger, out of a population of 10.9 million.

“While this is currently the result of the domestic situation in Haiti and lower-than-expected humanitarian food assistance, historic U.S. policy has also contributed to the problem and we have a moral responsibility to address it,” the members wrote.

The Caribbean nation has been ravaged by natural disasters and political instability, as well as an underperforming agricultural sector that’s forced the country to import more than half of the food it consumes.

The members, led by Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.), wrote that the war in Ukraine will exacerbate Haiti’s food issues.

“The war has already disrupted critical grain exports and led to an increase in food prices; nations all over the globe are on the precipice of a food crisis. As an import dependent nation, this puts Haiti in a particularly dangerous position as it also continues to reel from political instability and the aftermath of the August 2021 earthquake,” they wrote.

To address the crisis, the members wrote, USAID should work with community and grassroots organizations in Haiti to better direct its aid.

“These organizations know the communities best and can help with efficient distribution, coordination, and ensure that hard-to-reach areas are not missed,” they wrote.

At the core of Haiti’s political crisis is a split between acting President Ariel Henry and a multitude of civil society organizations who don’t recognize the legitimacy of Henry’s government.

The Biden administration has stopped short of taking sides in that dispute, which has roots in the Obama administration’s support for former President Michel Martelly in the 2010 presidential election.

And Haiti’s crisis has been exacerbated by mass repatriation of Haitians who have been barred from seeking asylum in the United States by the Biden administration.

Since President Biden took office, nearly 25,000 Haitians have been repatriated to the country, despite worsening conditions and the risk of famine.

While the members did not touch on the political aspects of Haiti’s crisis in their letter, they did encourage Power to coordinate with both national authorities and civil society groups.

“[W]e ask that all aid be coordinated directly with national and regional Haitian authorities and that grassroots organizations are provided the opportunity to both inform and help implement aid-based programs,” they wrote.

And the members called on USAID to design its Haiti food aid programs to support local producers, many of whom are recovering from earthquakes, hurricanes and mudslides that have devastated the Caribbean nation.

“We also urge you to purchase emergency food aid from local sources whenever possible and ensure that long term aid directed at Haiti be used to support smallholder farm families in their quest to become more productive, climate-smart, and integrated with public health initiatives. This will help support local agricultural economies, ensure their long-term viability, and improve health and wellbeing in the region through nutrition,” the legislators wrote.