FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Amber Lynn Munger
Telephone in Haiti : 509-3-686-8292 COMMUNITY-BASED APPROACH TO EMERGENCY FOOD DISTRIBUTION IN HAITI SEES SECOND WEEK OF SUCCESS
AMURT-Haiti Partners with Community Leaders to Deliver Food Aid to Thousands of Families in the Hurricane-Ravaged City of Gonaives
(5 October, 2008 – Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team in Haiti (AMURT-Haiti), a grassroots non-profit organization active in community empowerment and sustainable development in the NorthWest of Haiti, today completed its second week of facilitating community-based emergency food distribution in the hurricane-ravaged City of Gonaives . Since AMURT-Haiti began its distribution operation in mid-September, the organization’s Haitian staff and volunteers have worked with community leaders to deliver food to more than 1,500 families per day. )
“The model that AMURT-Haiti is using for food distribution relies on and reinforces the community networks that already exist in Gonaives, ensuring that food aid gets to those that need it most,” said Demeter Russafov, AMURT-Haiti’s Operations Coordinator.
When the first in the series of four major storms struck Haiti in early September, AMURT-Haiti was immediately in the field assessing community needs and determining access points for emergency assistance. Because of AMURT-Haiti’s involvement in long-term and ongoing community-based projects, its Haitian staff was already actively involved with grassroots groups in Gonaives and was thus able to connect the NGO to the local community leaders in the areas affected by the storms. As a result of this strong community base AMURT-Haiti emerged as one of the major relief partners in the first few weeks of the post-storm recovery effort and is now working closely with community partners to facilitate the delivery of emergency food aid to residents of Gonaives .
HOW EMERGENCY FOOD AID WORKS
The primary source of emergency food aid being distributed in Gonaives is food supplied by the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP). WFP delivers food to the port in Gonaives and then contracts with other organizations to distribute the food among the people. These contracts are usually given to large international humanitarian organizations such as CARE and CARITAS because such organizations have the resources to run large-scale operations in places where no infrastructure exists. In addition to contracting with its traditional partners in food distribution, WFP has contracted with AMURT-Haiti to distribute emergency food aid to one third of the city of Gonaives .
The emergency food aid that WFP partners receive is distributed to city residents through the use of food-ration cards. Each food card buys the cardholder a portion of dried beans, one bag of rice, and one can of oil. The cards are distributed to and redeemed by female heads of households on a bi-weekly basis. WFP partners, in conjunction with WFP and local authorities, determine the logistics of food delivery as well as the process by which food cards will be distributed. Ensuring a fair and systematic process for allotting food cards is of utmost importance in getting food aid to the population.
COMMUNITY-BASED EMERGENCY FOOD DISTRIBUTION
“The people and their communities must be included in decisions about when they will eat and how much,” said Demeter Russafov, AMURT-Haiti’s Operational Coordinator. “When the decisions are left to communities, families and neighbors in Gonaives work together to make sure that everyone gets fed. AMURT-Haiti’s role in food distribution is to work with community leaders to ensure that the aid coming into communities is distributed a manner that is fair for everyone.”
Communities in AMURT-Haiti’s portion of the city are represented by selected committees of three women and four men who are charged with the task of determining how to meet the local food needs with the amount of food that is available to them. The committees consider factors such as family size and family resources, as well as the needs of fragile populations - single mothers, the elderly, handicapped, and pregnant women - who are often the losers in the race to get cards. “The people of Haiti are used to working together and working hard to get what they need for their families,” said Russafov. “Including communities in the decision making process reduces the likelihood that certain families will be left out and significantly reduces the potential for abuse of the system.”
Earlier this summer, food riots erupted across the country of Haiti as the cost of food reached record heights. To protect against rioting during the current crisis, UN Peacekeeping forces from Peru , Bolivia , and Brazil patrol AMURT-Haiti’s distribution site and check food cards as women move through the distribution lines. On Wednesday, AMURT-Haiti received its second visit from the Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Haiti (French acronym “MINUSTAH”) at its food distribution operation in the district of Bigot. There UN General Carlos Alberto Souza Santos commented on the reduced security risk that resulted from AMURT-Haiti’s approach as he observed the organization’s staff and volunteers distribute rice, beans, and cooking oil to nearly 3,000 families that day.
“Too often it is the case that decisions about how the food will be distributed are dictated by people or organizations outside of the local communities,” said Russafov. “The result is that people fear that they will be left out in the decision making process. Community-based decision-making helps eliminate the ‘every-man-for-himself’ attitude that often results in rioting.”
LASTING EFFECTS OF A COMMUNITY-BASED APPROACH
The community-based approach used by AMURT-Haiti in its food distribution operation is laying the foundation for long-term community development and reconstruction programs. “Our community leaders are preparing to use the networks that they have developed for food distribution to bring medical clinics to affected areas, to clean, repair, and install water purifiers in schools, to create child-friendly spaces in community facilities, and to expand women’s training programs and cooperatives,” Russafov said.
Since 1965, AMURT has been providing short and long-term assistance to vulnerable populations throughout the world using a community empowerment and sustainability model. AMURT-Haiti has facilitated the Universal Relief Team (AMURT) is a worldwide volunteer-based nonprofit relief organization.establishment of integrated planning models with communities in the Northwest of Haiti’s Artibonite in the areas of environment, community-owned micro-enterprises, water filtration, health, education, agriculture, and leadership training.