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Steve Baragona | Gonaives, Haiti 30 March 2010

Irene Guerriere
Irene Guerriere


Plans for Haiti's recovery from the devastating earthquake are on the agenda at the United Nations donors' conference, March 31 in New York. Among the country's top priorities are the estimated 600,000 people who fled the capital, Port-au-Prince, for the countryside. Many took refuge with friends and family. But as our correspondent reports, the extra mouths to feed are straining their hosts' resources and pushing more people into hunger.

Irene Guerriere's quiet home is worlds away from the destruction in Port-au-Prince. But even here in Gonaives, a hundred kilometers north of the epicenter, Guerriere's family feels the effects of the earthquake. She remembers her first thought when she heard the news.

"My first reaction was, I have to get to Port-au-Prince because my daughter is there," said Irene Guerriere. "I have to find out what happened to her."

Guerriere was relieved to find her daughter Ivena safe with close friends. But the friends had to escape the devastation. So they asked to come to Gonaives.

"I couldn't tell them no because they were the ones who took care of my daughter in Port-au-Prince," she said.

Suddenly, Guerriere's household swelled from 10 people to 18. There were almost twice as many mouths to feed - but no extra food to feed them.

Now, eleven weeks later, Guerriere has run out of grains the family had stored.  

She has been forced to sell her livestock to pay for food.

And with no money for seeds, and insects attacking her crops, the next harvest is at risk. 

"I don't have money to buy insecticide and feed the people," said Guerriere. "The people are more important. I have to feed the people."

All across Haiti, families that struggled, before the earthquake, to feed themselves now find themselves with hungry guests. Charles Edie is chief of agriculture for the Artibonite department, where Gonaives is located. 

"The people who left Port-au-Prince brought nothing with them but their appetites," said Charles Edie.

Some 60,000 people arrived in Artibonite after the earthquake, swelling the population by 20 percent within days. At first, food aid helped some families ease the burden. But Edie says that stage is coming to an end. 

"The second step is to try to create work so that people who left Port-au-Prince have money so they can survive," he said.

Experts say the newly arrived workers actually could be a boon to rural Haiti. Putting them to work improving food production could help reduce Haiti's food shortages. 

Creating rural jobs is on everyone's to-do list, from the government to the U-N to aid groups.

But so far, for families like the Guerrieres, the need is urgent and it's now. 

Ivena tries to be positive.

"Sometimes we only eat in the morning," she said. "But we just tell jokes all day. However we have to deal with it, we'll deal with it."

If jobs don't come soon, food could run out for many Haitians. And the humor won't be far behind.

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Our World — 27 March 2010