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Haiti's Rising Cost of Food  Worries Aid Groups

Foreign aid groups in Haiti say they are hurt by the high cost of food just as much as ordinary citizens whose anger over the rising prices led to violent protests in the Caribbean nation last week. In Port-au-Prince, VOA's Brian Wagner reports pressure on food costs is showing little signs of easing.

Haitians who live on less than two dollars a day rely on food aid and other assistance from abroad. Catholic Relief Services is one of several organizations that seeks to aid working poor, handicapped and other residents.

The group's director in Port-au-Prince, Bill Canny, says it relies on funding from the U.S government, which appropriates two billion dollars each year for humanitarian aid spending, under a program called title two.

He says U.S. funding levels have held steady in recent years, but soaring food costs mean that aid groups can no longer buy as much as they used to. "You would have to increase that allocation by the U.S. government of two billion dollars by 900 million dollars to get back to buying the levels of food we were at a couple of years ago," he said.

Responding to violent protests over rising food prices, Haitian President Rene Preval has promised to work with international aid groups and local suppliers to cut rice prices by 15 percent. For some of the poorest Haitians, who have been unable to make ends meet for some time, this may not be enough.

The plan is also raising concern at the United Nations. Joel Boutroue is deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General. "He [the president] wants to try to share the burden of the price increase. How sustainable is that? The answer is that it is not sustainable," he said.

Boutroue says Haiti also needs to focus on long-term economic programs, such as expanding the farming sector and creating other employment opportunities.

Another key reason behind rising prices is the high price of oil imports, which pushes up transportation costs for international and domestic products. Energy experts say there is little sign that oil prices will decline anytime soon.

 

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