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WFP Helps Haitians Work To Protect City From Mud

With WFP support, a system of stone-lined ditches is being built on the hills overlooking Gonaives in a bid to prevent a repeat of last year when mudslides buried the north Haitian city, contributing to a severe hunger crisis.

GONAIVES -- In 2008 a series of hurricanes and tropical storms sent a wall of water  into the northern Haitian city of Gonaives and washed the topsoil from the slopes of the surrounding hills into the city. When the water subsided, roads and buildings were covered with more than two million tonnes of mud.

The next hurricane season is expected in July. For the last few months, hundreds of local workers have been trying to stabilize the hillsides around Gonaives in a project co-funded by WFP and managed by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Expands family budgets

Workers earn $2 a day and receive a 50 kg bag of WFP rice every 25 work days – enough to feed a family of five – as they clear canals and ditches and stabilize surrounding hillsides. This WFP assistance expands family budgets without competing with foods available in the markets.

As a result, stone barrages now fill steep gulleys that plunge down a hillside laced with horizontal stone-lined ditches. Hopefully, during the next storm some of the flood waters will soak into the hillside via the ditches instead of swamping Gonaives again.

Disaster mitigation

More than 260 locals are digging horizontal ditches and reinforcing them with rock. Three hundred others are hand assembling the stone barrages. Another 212 people are upgrading drainage ditches in the flatlands below.

But everyone admits this only a partial fix. That’s why these WFP-supported projects are called “disaster mitigation” rather than disaster prevention. The hope is that the destruction from Haiti’s next major storm won’t be as bad as the last time.

Meanwhile, there are other hillsides that need to be worked on in order to maximise the mitigation effect. “We will need more resources because it is very important to continue the process in all the watersheds,” said ILO project administrator Jean Marie Vanden Wouwer.