PORT AU PRINCE - Amid rapidly deteriorating security across Haiti, a crowd of looters has ransacked a United Nations World Food Programme warehouse in the northern city of Cap Haitien, with the loss of 800 metric tons of food, mostly vegetable oil and pulses.
Despite the raid, which took place on Sunday following the seizure of the city by rebel forces, WFP estimates that it still has sufficient stocks either in Haiti or on their way there for an estimated 373,000 people in need of food aid. But the agency issued a warning that if the security situation continues to worsen, widespread food shortages are inevitable, especially in the north, where WFP is already unable to reach the most vulnerable people.
"Unless security improves soon, we will see a sharp rise in human suffering, especially among the poor", said WFP Country Director Guy Gauvreau. "We have not witnessed the full extent of the crisis yet."
In the poorest areas around the capital, Port au Prince, WFP has been finding increasing numbers of people needing food assistance, At some health centres, where the agency has been providing food to nursing mothers and malnourished children, demand has risen by as much as 40 percent over the past two months.
In this part of the country, WFP is currently providing food to 66,000 people at 23 health centres, as well as 39,000 primary school students in 92 schools. The numbers are expected to rise over the coming weeks if the security situation continues to deteriorate
"So far we have managed to meet the demand, but we are concerned about the effect that the conflict will have on the lives of the most vulnerable," Gauvreau said.
The food looted from the Cap Haitien warehouse was part of the ration WFP had allocated to assist 268,000 people in the north in February. They included 87,000 people severely affected by drought and recurrent flooding, 90,000 school children and 91,000 vulnerable people - among them nursing or pregnant mothers and HIV/AIDS orphans.
"Insecurity is the main obstacle preventing us from reaching the most vulnerable. We are calling on all parties to allow humanitarian operations to continue. As of this week many WFP supported schools and health centers have run out of stocks. People are now facing rising food prices that in some cases they simply cannot afford," Gauvreau said.
According to the government's food security commission, the Coordination Nationale de la Securite Alimentaire (CNSA), Haiti only produces 55 percent of its total food requirements. Even in rural areas, farmers depend to a large degree on imported foods.
Given that Haiti is a food deficient country and is still dependent on food aid, the situation could rapidly evolve into a crisis, especially if the blockage of supply routes leads to a collapse of the marketing system, on which both the urban and rural population depend.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003, WFP sought to feed 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.
Deputy Director, WFP/Rome
Tel: + 1-202-653-0010
Cell: +1- 202-422-3383
WFP Country Director Haiti
Tel: + 509 51 5714
WFP/ Latin America and the Caribbean.
Tel: +509 550 86 94