‘People will do anything when they are hungry’ he said, peering at me over his desk through his thin wire-framed glasses. I looked back down at my notes, taking in what he had said. The interview had gone well, but this final comment stuck with me.
I have never been in a situation where I have been so desperately hungry that I have gone to extremes. A day of fasting or an occasional missed meal is nowhere near the dull ache of an empty stomach, or the growing panic of realisation that you cannot provide a meal for your family. It is no wonder people become desperate.
Intrigued by the media frenzy surrounding the book and film ‘The Hunger Games’ I finished reading the novel last weekend. Set in an apocalyptic future, the Hunger Games are an annual event where one boy and one girl from 12 districts controlled by the powerful city ‘the Capitol’ take part in a live televised battle to the death. A dark social commentary highlighting the extremes people will go to when faced with poverty and hunger. (A colleague of mine has written a brilliant commentary linking media and humanitarianism – a must-read!)
Here in Haiti there may not be a risk of drought as in the African Sahel but food security is a hot topic, now in the rainy season the mountains are lush with green, but the deforested hillsides also pose the risks of landslides and flooding, destroying crops and livelihoods. People are still left hungry even when the rains are abundant.
Those living in the rural areas rely on subsistence farming, digging into the steep hillsides to plant crops and find a means of making ends meet. The steep mountainsides are a hostile environment often battered by high winds and ravaged by tropical storms that strip away the topsoil, ruining crops and often damaging houses. A hand to mouth existence for many, survival is weather dependent, with entire communities left at the mercy of the elements.
Solutions are being found, building seed banks to provide a secure storage for seed after harvest that can then be distributed to vulnerable members of the community. Planting trees secures the soil, reducing the risk of landslides and retaining valuable water. Rainwater harvesting tanks collect the run-off, avoiding soil erosion and providing a safe, reliable source of water.
People will do anything when they are hungry. These projects, already in place in the rural areas of Léogâne are working towards eradicating that reality.