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Home Publications Blogs Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch Tracking the Displaced: How Agricultural Support Can Aid the Decentralization Process

Tracking the Displaced: How Agricultural Support Can Aid the Decentralization Process

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Monday, 07 June 2010 12:58
A study done by the Karolinka Institute in collaboration with Columbia University and with the help of Digicel, offers a detailed view into the internal displacement caused by the earthquake. The analysis looks at the locations of Digicel mobile phones from January 1 until March 11.

The study finds that based on their estimates, by January 31, 570,000 people had left Port-au-Prince, with the three largest recipient areas being, Sud, Ouest and Artibonite. By March 11, however, some 41 percent of those displaced had returned to the capital, most of whom had been in Port-au-Prince prior to the quake.

In the aftermath of the earthquake many had called for a reconstruction plan that included the decentralization of Haiti. Indeed, the plan put forth by the Haitian government at the donor conference in New York included many provisions for decentralization. Although much of the focus of the relief efforts have been in and around Port-au-Prince, the countryside was severely effected as well. The large influx of people put stress on food supplies and facilities. The Los Angeles Times reported in February that:
Villagers are near the breaking point as they try to accommodate tens of thousands of displaced city dwellers just when they would be putting their precious resources into preparing for planting. In desperation, some have resorted to eating their meager seed stocks or killing their chickens and goats to feed the influx, rather than keeping them to sell.
Support for the agricultural sector is seen as key to the decentralization process. The Montreal Gazette reported June 5 on comments made by one of the candidates in Haiti's upcoming presidential elections:
“There are three million farming families in Haiti,” says Charles Henri Baker, a leading candidate in Haiti’s coming elections.

“The textile sector, to which I belong . . . could create 100,000, maybe 200,000 jobs. Agriculture can create three million jobs, bring down the cost of living and decentralize the four million people living in and around Port-au-Prince. . . . They could go back to their villages and lead positive lives, rather than stay in Port-au-Prince and just barely make a living.”

If $1 billion of the $11 billion pledged by international donors was put toward agriculture, the world could “watch Haiti not only feed itself, but export billions,” he said.
Despite the opportunities that support for the countryside entails, little has been forthcoming. A recent pledge by the Inter-American Development Bank to provide some $200 million in grants through 2014 is a welcome development, however the UN Humanitarian Appeal for agriculture remains one of the least funded. The agriculture cluster is just 40 percent funded, compared to an overall level of 59 percent.

Of course, many of the 533,000 who left Port-au-Prince would probably want to return home no matter what, however the fact that 233,000 people had already returned by March 11 may suggest that a lack of support in the countryside is forcing residents to return to Port-au-Prince. The over-crowding of the capital was an important factor in what led to the scale of the devastation, better relief efforts in the countryside, coupled with strong support for the agricultural sector would not only improve livelihoods, but also greatly help the decentralization process.

(Although the Gazette article places emphasis on Baker's status as a "leading candidate" the upcoming elections, in the 2006 elections he received just 8.24 percent of the vote. By this measure, Ralph Nader, who came in third in the 2008, 2004, and 2000 U.S. presidential elections, can be considered a "leading candidate" should he choose to run in 2012.)

Tags: agriculture | decentralization | displacement | relocation

 

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