Living Below The Poverty Line In Haiti, An Aid Worker Diary

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Benite Joseph is one of many people in Haiti who lives below the poverty line and whose family is unable to eat every day. Benite lives with her four children aged between nine years and 16 months under a tarpaulin perched on a very small ledge about 400 metres above the main road in Fonds-Verettes, Haiti, near the border with the Dominican Republic.

This area is about 50 miles from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Its steep hillsides made chalky and barren from years of deforestation cannot retain rainwater; so many residents have lost their homes to waves of flooding caused by hurricanes – long before the 2010 earthquake.

The Joseph family’s hardship is primarily due to the structural economic problems that predate the earthquake. With no land of their own to farm, her husband was forced to seek work as a day labourer to earn just $1 a day. As the agricultural economy continues to decline, Benite’s husband took the risk of travelling to the Dominican Republic without papers to join a construction crew. But at the end of the job, instead of paying him, his employers called immigration authorities who summarily deported him.

Unfortunately this is a familiar story for people living in Haiti along the border with the Dominican Republic where there is more employment available, but also much racism and exploitation of Haitian people.

Julien Zetrene Adeline, a local politician in Fonds-Verettes, explained: “Even though we get humiliated at the border, life is better in the Dominican Republic, so people continue to try to cross over.”

Christian Aid partner GARR, which offers support to refugees and forcibly repatriated Haitians has donated the small parcel of land to the Joseph family so they have a place to live.

With little or no money the Joseph family, like poor families all over Haiti, can afford very little to eat. They can look for plants that grow in the wild such as squash or Congo pea as well as the very small ‘native plantain’ that they will boil and add fried leaves for flavour. With this meal their only cost would be cooking fuel, but this is only if they are lucky enough to find the plants.

According to a study by the Food and Agriculture Oganization of the United Nations 80% of Haitians live below the poverty line and more than 60% live extremely below the poverty line.

When the Joseph family is able to afford a meal they would usually buy:

1 pound of cornmeal, this would not be much for a family of six – (25 gde)

A small amount of oil/salt/garlic for seasoning – (25 gde)

A small amount of one vegetable in season- okra, squash, eggplant – (35 gde)

Charcoal to cook the meal – (15 gde)

The value of 64 gde is about £1, so the cost of this very basic meal would be about £1.56. If the family is unable to afford the whole meal they would cut out the vegetable. When it comes to meat and rice, food considered a part of the Haitian diet, they are too expensive for this family to afford.

Read the rest of this story on Trust.org

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