Sak Vid Pa Kanpe: The Impact of U.S. Food Aid on Human Rights in Haiti

Sak vid pa kanpe.
An empty sack can’t stand up. —Haitian Proverb

The title of this report draws on a Haitian proverb which laments that a sack cannot stand if it is empty—a powerful metaphor for the importance of food and sustenance to one’s capacity to “stand” and function. Living in the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, the Haitian people know all too well how vital access to food is to their daily survival.

However, many Haitians have also experienced the unintended negative consequences of U.S. food aid programs. While these programs often help people in times of crisis, many also run afoul of the human right to food by undermining the local economy, eroding agricultural self-reliance, and failing to include Haitians in their design and implementation.

This report presents the findings of a study on the right to food in Haiti jointly undertaken by four organizations, based on a survey undertaken in the town of Hinche and additional desk research and interviews. This report draws on both human rights and public health methodologies to assess the impact of food aid programs on the right to food in Hinche. It finds that while U.S. food aid may provide nourishment to many people, the way in which it is procured, delivered, and administered often interferes with Haitians’ human rights by failing to improve long-term food security.

The report sets out concrete recommendations calling on the U.S. government to transform food aid in accordance with human rights principles so that food in Haiti is: economically and physically accessible; adequate in quantity, quality, and nutrition; culturally acceptable; available; and sustainable. At a time when the Haitian people are facing the monumental task of rebuilding their country after the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake, it is vital that donor countries and NGOs adopt approaches that advance and respect Haitians’ human rights. Only then will U.S. policy respond to the Haitian people as they “stand up” and lead themselves into a more promising future.

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