The first part of November, I had the opportunity to spend five days in Lèogâne with the folks of ODEPOL(Organization for the Development of Orange-Pâque of Léogâne) and four days in Verettes, wth the folks of ODEPE (Organization for Development and Protection of the Environment) and MRPST (Movement of Farmer's without Land) just a couple of weeks after Sandy passed through.
I took many pictures of the damage that Sandy had done in both Léogâne and Verettes. Unfortunately, I lost all of those photos. Thinking I had successfully transferred them to my computer I then erased them from the camera. When I returned to look on the computer for the photos, there were only three or four actually downloaded, none of which are related to hurricane damage, or even to our work. Heartbreaking to say the least.
Damage that I heard about and saw include almost total loss of several major crops, including pigeon pea, sweet potato, corn and sorghum. Essentially all of the staple foods that keep folks going during the three to six month dry season. I was skeptical about the loss of the sorghum, because it looked to me like the heads were still intact. A member of MRPST then showed me several of the heads and every single individual grainhead was empty.
Animals were also lost, as were many trees. In all of the yards where we worked, the fruit trees and bananas were wind-whipped and will certainly take time to recover. Some people lost fruit crops as the wind shook off all or most of the fruits. Some people lost homes, or had homes severely damages. Particularly in the mountains of Verettes, we saw houses with damaged roofs. In one large yard, the family had cleared out the debris of a house destroyed by the storm and were preparing to rebuild.
There was also loss of life. There were at least nine people washed away by the flooding in just one of the municipal sectors of Léogâne. When we passed by the dam on the Grand Rivière de Léogâne, on our way up into the mountains, Esterne, who was leading us, showed us where three bodies had been found. Farther up the river, a man we found cleaning up some trees that had been knocked down pointed his finger and said "That was my house and my fields of sweet potatoes and bananas." Where he was pointing is now part of the river bed. Several hundred yards of the river bank must have been washed away, his home and fields along with it
In Léogâne, there was also damage to the irrigation infrastructure. The dam where the bodies were found is now utterly filled with rocks and debris. The captured water that formerly watered an extensive system of fields no longer flows. The canals are dry.
How will people in the rural countryside survive the next several months until they have a chance (with God's blessing) to grow more crops? How will people replace animals lost? How will they repair their roofs, let alone rebuild their homes? I have no answer, except to note that the people of Haiti are strong and they are resilient. But every setback in the rural area sends more people to the overcrowded urban centers. That is not a humane solution.
Yard gardens are far far far from being THE solution, but they are part of it. The way we are producing food requires relatively little inputs, including relatively little water. And the crops we focus on are highly nutritious and have a quick turn around. Some of the vegetables, such as amaranth and pak choy can be grown from seed to harvest in just over one month. We use moringa as a perennial vegetable that people can harvest almost continuously. We also focus on producing Haitian basket vine intensively. Hatian basket vine is an indigenous plant with very nutritious leaves. None of these crops can take the place of staples such as rice, sorghum, corn, bananas or root crops. But they can complete whatever staple foods the families do produce, turning them into complete meals with vitamins, minerals and proteins, rather than just carbohydrates. Families also are using the garden spaces to produce highly valuable crops such as hot peppers, that can increase income and help ease some of the difficult times.
None of this is enough, but it is something. And by God's grace, something will always trump nothing and eventually lead us to the next better, more fundamental solution. "Turning, turning we come down right."