Haiti's rising food insecurity risks social tension, says FAO

ROME Thu Nov 22, 2012 3:09pm EST

ROME (Reuters) - Growing food insecurity in Haiti after Hurricane Sandy risks sparking more social tension, the United Nations Food Agency warned on Thursday, calling for food, farm and transport investment to boost the country's resilience to climate shocks.

Three natural disasters have hit the Caribbean island this year, including a drought in the summer and Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy. More than 40 percent of Haiti's harvest was destroyed and losses of about $254 million incurred, U.N. estimates say.

About 60 percent of Haiti's population live in rural areas and more than half of those are now at risk of acute food insecurity, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

"This vulnerability could be a source of destabilisation: if we don't address it, there will be tensions," Laurent Thomas, the FAO's assistant director-general, told Reuters.

The past several months have seen a series of nationwide protests and general strikes over the rising cost of living. Even before Hurricane Sandy hit, residents complained that food prices were too high.

A spike in food prices triggered violent demonstrations and political instability in April 2008.

A U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti was recently extended for another year, but the number of soldiers and police officers will be reduced by about 1,700 to 8,800 by June 2013.

Haiti is still struggling to recover from a strong January 2010 earthquake that killed about 300,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless.

FAO and the Haitian government have launched an appeal to raise $74 million over the next 12 months. They have so far secured $2.7 million, with a further $5-6 million in the pipeline, they said.

Haitian President Michel Joseph Martelly and FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva met on Thursday. They said afterwards that investments in the food and farm sectors as well as in transport infrastructure would help boost Haiti's resilience to climate shocks.

"The problems that we are currently experiencing can be seen as opportunities for investors," Martelly said. "This means roads, ports, airports ... and investment in the agriculture sector."

(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Andrew Osborn)