WFP in Haiti: The Road to Food Security
Interview with Jean-Martin Bauer, Haiti Country Director, where we discussed his career with the WFP and the challenges the country faces in food security
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World Food Programme in Haiti
Addressing Food Insecurity and Disaster Preparedness
Interview with Jean-Martin Bauer, Country Director, World Food Program, in Haiti, where we discussed his career with the WFP, starting in Niger, in West Africa, and then being promoted to posts in Guine-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, as a food security and markets analyst, launching and leading the World Food Programme Vulnerability and Analysis Mapping Initiative in Rome, and later as Congo’s Country Director.
Jean-Martin Bauer was based in New York as Senior Advisor on Digital till this past May. He is a 20-year UN veteran, and has served in 4 country offices in the Sahel and Central Africa, and in the West Africa regional bureau, in Dakar, Senegal.
Jean-Martin launched the mobile VAM initiative at WFP HQ in Rome, winning WFP’s inaugural innovation challenge. Before working for WFP New York, Jean-Martin was WFP’s Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A Washington, D.C. native, Jean-Martin holds degrees from the London School of Economics and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the school of public policy and government at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In these 20 years Bauer could see first hand how the WFP addresses food insecurity in conflict, wars, post-conflict and — increasingly — post-extreme weather events. How WFP helps lift people from abject poverty and addresses head-on malnutrition in children, collaborating with UNICEF and other UN agencies to deliver in emergencies, and supporting countries’ transition to political stability and reconstruction phases.
How has his work evolved by adopting drones, satellites, sensors and data analysis, AI/ML, and a number of tools that are now available? That has made an analysts’s job much more interesting in some ways, while it is way easier to acquire data now the question is what do with it and how it can become actionable, how to make sense of it all, he says.
Now the challenge is to create a compelling narrative from all the data gathered and deliver services and goods on the ground, sometimes adjusting logistics in real-time, because, well, now you can.
Bauer was recently appointed to be WFP Country Director, in Haiti, and tells me that the challenges the country faces is in part because it has experienced extreme weather events (hurricanes) and natural disasters (earthquakes) in succession in the past decades.
The earthquake in 2010, when the UN offices were destroyed, and 102 United Nations staff lost their lives, including the UN Stabilization Mission Secretary-General Representative at the time, a Tunisian national, Hedi Annabi, and his deputy, a Brazilian national and UN-veteran, Luis Carlos da Costa.
220.000 people died then, some 300,000 people were injured, and 1.5 million became homeless during the 35-second-long tremor. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians lost their lives 12 years ago, many thousands more sustained permanent injuries.
More recently, the country suffered a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, on the 14 of August 2021, exactly around a year ago.
Haiti is geographically in a position that makes it extremely vulnerable to seismic vagaries and unpredictability. The country sits on a geologic fault that is part of a seismically active zone between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates.
The 2021 Haiti Country Report Paints a Bleak Picture
Between extreme weather events and the political instability the country lives in a constant state of catch-up to rebuild, and there seems that it has no time to invest in development. Political parties come and go and solutions become stale. Haitians are an industrious people, full of energy and hope. They deserve better.
Since the arrival of Jean-Martin Bauer, in May of 2022, the WFP is working with local farmers and food producers to feed one hundred thousand children in primary schools every day.
Imagine that. Feeding. One. Hundred. Thousand. Children. Every. Single. Day.
Bauer served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as WFP Country Director, where he led one of WFPs programs that uses cassava flour as substitute to rice, as the country needed to import rice at a point and there were significant delays.
They even developed a production system to purchase the cassava from smallholder farmers and then generated more jobs as well by creating a manufacturing plant to transform the root vegetable into flour. How brilliant is that?
The challenge for the WFP is precisely that, help when it is needed in acute food insecurity situations but also forge a path to make the communities it serves self-sufficient and jump-start the local economy. A life saver this initiative by the WFP.
Watch this video made in 2020 by the WFP in Congo, showing how they pulled the community around its production of cassava flour at an industrial scale, in two months.
There is also now in Haiti a push for supporting local farmers and look at basic food staples and vegetables that are from the region, such as cassava and other commodities instead of relying solely on rice. At the moment Haiti imports 80% of the rice it consumes.
it was not always so, tells me Bauer. Haiti was food self-sufficient in the 90’s but some tariff shenanigans decimated rice agriculture, and compounded with extreme weather events and natural disasters the country has been in a vicious circle of dependency on external food supplies.
“Developments over the past year compounded an already precarious humanitarian situation in the country as Haiti has one of the highest levels of chronic food insecurity in the world, with more than half of its total population chronically food insecure and 22 percent of children chronically malnourished. Haiti ranks 170 out of 189 countries on the 2020 Human Development Index .
Poverty in the country is profound and multi-dimensional, evidenced by poor social outcomes for literacy, life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, and gender inequality. One-quarter of the population lives below the extreme poverty line, especially in rural areas, where agricultural livelihoods have underperformed due to land degradation, inappropriate agricultural practices, under-investments, and weather-related shocks. Furthermore, many Haitians do not have direct access to electricity, water, sanitation, or healthcare.” 2021 Haiti Country Report
For the full report click here.
Haiti in Numbers
Population 11 Million
Source: WFP webpage
Nearly one million people are highly food insecure
4.3 million people across the country do not have enough to eat
1.1 million people WFP aims to assist in 2021
The already dire situation in Haiti, which has one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world, was compounded by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck regions in the southwest on 14 August 2021. As the country was already in the midst of an active hurricane season and dealing with multiple crises – including political instability, gang violence and rising food prices – humanitarian needs in the areas affected by the earthquake are rising sharply.
Homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed and there are limited shelter options for people who have lost their homes. Nearly one million people are highly food insecure in the earthquake-affected areas and 4.3 million people – or half the population analyzed – across the country currently do not have enough to eat. The World Food Programme (WFP) has assisted 860,000 people with emergency food assistance so far in 2021, more than twice as many people as in 2020.
WFP is stepping up assistance to chronically food insecure Haitians in the earthquake-affected area and extending support to those newly in need. WFP aims to assist 1.1 million people in 2021 with emergency assistance, including almost 325,000 people in urgent need of food in the Sud, Grand’Anse and Nippes departments, the regions worst affected by the earthquake.
For more on the use of data, satellite imagery, and remote sensors in humanitarian settings watch the full interview with Jean-Martin Bauer by Maxime Lenormand, host of the podcast Minds Behind Maps.