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Hurricane-ravaged Haiti still reeling eight months after Matthew

Presbyterian Hunger Program visits farmers hit by recent heavy rains and flooding

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Water-saturated farmland continues to flood after Hurricane Matthew and recent heavy rains. (Photo by Valery Nodem)

LOUISVILLE – Anyone doubting whether climate change exists should pay a visit to Haiti. That’s the assessment from Valery Nodem, the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s international associate, who recently visited the country, nearly eight months after Hurricane Matthew.

The Category 4 hurricane struck the small country on October 4, 2016, packing winds in excess of 145 miles per hour. As many as 1.1 million people were affected by the storm and nearly 600 people are known to have died, but authorities believe the number is likely three times higher. Nationwide, hundreds of homes were destroyed along with roads and businesses.

“Since the hurricane hit, hundreds of people are still waiting for help to come,” said Nodem. “There are a lot of mountains in the region and support agencies cannot reach some of these rural communities by vehicle. They have to park and then walk to the villages.”

Haiti was still recovering from a 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 when Matthew struck, setting recovery back years.

“More intense and frequent disasters have long been a prediction of climate scientists,” said Rebecca Barnes, coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “Haiti appears to be living this reality, as well as the common understanding that – in climate change – it is communities already suffering from lack of infrastructure or from poverty that will bear the brunt and have the hardest time recovering.”

“Many of the initial agencies that responded to Hurricane Matthew have left the country,” said Nodem. “But just walking and looking around, you can see how devastated the country is. Bridges were destroyed and a lot of buildings, damaged in the storm, are not being rebuilt.”

Nodem says the most devastating thing for him was seeing how hard the people had worked to rebuild and plant crops, only to see the recent rainy season wipe away their progress.

“It’s really hard for them to feel like they are on top of the recovery effort. The normal rain they are having now, any kind of rain, is killing people and it is heartbreaking and devastating,” he said. “The hurricane just happened and the new rain is destroying crops.”

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is working with PC(USA) partners in Haiti to provide seeds so farmers can quickly grow beans and vegetables that don’t require a lot of growing time.

Roads in Haiti are nearly impassible due to heavy rains. (Photo by Valery Nodem)

“It’s one thing to hear about climate change, but this trip really helped me see the reality of it. If you really want to see climate change in action, Haiti is the place to go. The country is almost completely surrounded by water and the people are very likely to be impacted by any change in the weather,” said Nodem. “The rain affects food production and that is reflected on the price of food in the market. There is huge inflation and people are talking about the continuing jump in food prices.”

The day before Nodem arrived in Haiti, he said the price of gas jumped 20 percent and there is fear that the impact will also be felt in all forms of transportation around the country.

“Realities like these are why we understand climate change to be a root cause of hunger and poverty and why we include work to ameliorate climate affects as part of our work to alleviate hunger,” said Barnes.

Nodem visited with PHP partners as well as a number of farms that were under water.

“One farmer told me he was extremely discouraged as a result of Hurricane Matthew. There was a time when Haiti would see a major hurricane every 10 to 20 years. Now they expect something like this, every five years. It seems to be happening a lot faster,” he said. “This farmer had recently borrowed a lot of money and reinvested it in food production, buying a significant amount of seeds and paying a number of workers to help. They were almost ready when the latest rains washed their work away. The farmer now wonders how he is going to pay back the loans, feed his family and send his children to school.”

Nodem believes PC(USA) support for Haiti should go beyond the hurricane, adding that climate change has only made things worse with constant flooding.

“What I saw was a little bit of rain can destroy food production for thousands and thousands of people. They have to find new ways of living in order to survive,” he said. “The next step is for us to keep the country in our prayers, keep our Haitian brothers and sisters in our hearts and continue to support them through PDA and the work we do. Unfortunately, this will happen again.”


People interested in supporting Haiti during this time can give through PDA account number DR000193.

To help fund long-term recovery, activities in Haiti, including small sustainable agricultural initiatives and small business development, give through PHP account number H000014.

PDA and PHP are able to respond to emergencies as well as hunger and poverty issues because of gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.


Ministry areas: Presbyterian Hunger Program; Presbyterian Disaster Assistance; Compassion, Peace and Justice.

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