PORT-AU-PRINCE – Natasha, 25, lives in the notorious Cité Soleil, one of the largest and poorest slums in the Northern Hemisphere. She can only afford one meagre meal a day for herself and her two small children.
I met Natasha at Catherine Labouré Hospital in the heart of the shanty town in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. She was carrying Alexis, her severely malnourished 15-month old son. He weighed six kilos and his legs were as thin as sticks. She had just registered him for a monthly distribution of WFP food that will help build him back up.
Check out the slideshow just published by BBC using photos taken in Haiti by WFP's Anne Poulson.
“I was happy when I heard I was going to get this extra help with feeding him”, said Natasha whose husband left her during her last pregnancy. “Life is a struggle, everything costs so much, getting this food will make a difference”.
Like the parents of some 4,500 malnourished children in Cité Soleil, she now receives a monthly ration of corn-soya blend, sugar and oil.
Natasha makes 75 gourdes (just under US $2) per day washing dishes for street food stalls in the city’s markets. Of that, she spends 50 gourdes a day on rice, vegetables and charcoal. The rest goes on rent of their tin shack which she invited me to visit.
Our route took us down a street lined with open sewers, along a canal filled with garbage and through a warren of breeze block and corrugated iron huts. We made our way across a pool of stagnant water, hopping from one large stone to another, and squeezed sideways through a gap between two rusting walls. In the doorway of their hut, Natasha’s mother was waiting with her three-year old.
“This is where we sleep,” said Natasha, pointing at the only item of furniture, a bed. “And this is where I cook,” she added, indicating a few pots on the earth and stone floor.
It was midday and like an oven inside the corrugated iron shack. With so many holes in the roof, it must be like living in a colander when it rains. The interior walls were lined with torn cardboard.
In a bid to relieve some of the misery in Haiti, the UN’s special envoy to Haiti, former US president Bill Clinton, is leading a movement to rehabilitate the ailing Caribbean nation. But until that effort bears fruit, for many Haitians food assistance is one of very few bright spots in a bleak and brutal existence.