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Hunger In Haiti Leaves No Room for Complacency

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Advocates urge Congress to release more aid, include Haitian civil society and women in rebuilding

Representatives of Haitian civil society organizations met with members of US Congress and representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department (USAID) in Washington this week. The aim is to address persistent problems in Haiti, two years after the devastating earthquake there.

Church World Service (CWS) co-sponsored the Congressional briefings, as part of Haiti Advocacy Week. A coalition of U.S. organizations are members of the Haiti Advocacy Working Group.

Participants say they made it clear to the Congress that the situation in Haiti is dire, and that there is no room for complacency. More than 600,000 people in Haiti are still living in camps. For those people, and even for those who have left, there is still an unacceptably high level of hunger and malnutrition, suffering, risk and insecurity.

One focus of the Congressional meetings centered on problems connected with aid efforts and who was at fault.

Jasmine Huggins, Church World Service senior advocacy officer for Haiti, says "while it is vital to analyze what can be learned from the past and how aid delivery to those in need can be improved, now is not the time to try to cast blame."

Rather than sitting around, talking and pointing the finger, Huggins says the humanitarian community must redouble their efforts, and continue support for grassroots organizations that are meeting the needs of the poorest, continue pressing for the release of international aid to Haiti, and urge all departments of the U.S. government to insist that the Haitian government adopt rights-based approaches in their programs, and prioritize the most vulnerable.

The church organization is particularly concerned that women and children continue still to endure hunger and malnutrition and insecurity.

Women who are still in camps and women evicted from the camps urgently require safe, secure housing, because they are at risk of sexual violence. Lack of food and employment forces the hungry to sell sex for money to support their families and themselves, Huggins said.

Without access to sustainable incomes so they can care for their families, women and their daughters may have to sell sex to survive.

Colette Lespinasse from Support Group for Refugees and Repatriated Persons says "various (Haitian) ministries still don't have a plan to house women or consider them a priority. The U.S. government must urge the Haitian government to address women's concerns in all their plans."

Advocates say houses must urgently be built so that women can be safe. Police officers need more resources and immediate training so they can perform their role in protection. All government ministries need to understand the most urgent needs of women, and foster the full inclusion of women and civil society organizations alike in Haiti's redevelopment and in their programs across the board, not just in the Women's Ministry.

Co-sponsors of the Washington advocacy week, in addition to Church World Service, included Haiti Action Working Group (HAWG) members: Action Aid USA, Alternative Change/Chans Alternativ, American Jewish World Service, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Center for Gender and Refugee Studies-University of California Hasting College of Law, Environmental Justice Initiative for Haiti, Fonkoze USA, Gender Action, Grassroots International, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, International Rescue Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Latin America Working Group, Li, Li, Li, Read, MADRE, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.-Washington Office, National Lawyers Guild-Environmental Justice Center, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, The Andora Project, The Haiti Fund at the Boston Foundation, TransAfrica Forum, United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and University of Miami School of Law-Human Rights Clinic.

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