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UN Gives Seeds, Tools to Haitian Farmers Still Reeling From Hurricane

FILE - Roodymanche Lomane plants potatoes in his small vegetable plot in Oriani, Haiti, Feb. 15, 2016. A strong El Nino weather phenomenon left many places in Latin America and the Caribbean stricken by drought this year.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has started distributing seeds and tools to Haitian farmers reeling from Hurricane Matthew to help them recover from the country's worst humanitarian crisis since a 2010 earthquake.

The FAO said it was aiming by mid-December to reach 125,250 people in regions hardest hit by the hurricane, which struck the Caribbean nation October 4, destroying 90 percent of the harvest and leaving 1.4 million people in need of food aid.

In the worst-hit areas — including Grand'Anse and Sud departments and parts of Nippes department — over 75 percent of the population is struggling to recover, the U.N. agency said Tuesday.

"Hurricane Matthew not only eliminated the last harvest, it also compromised the upcoming planting season and the country's ability to feed itself," said Nathanael Hishamunda, FAO representative in Haiti.

"These communities need urgent support to prevent them from adapting survival strategies that put them into a vicious cycle of dependence, including eating seeds meant for producing food in future harvests," he added.

The World Food Program is distributing food aid to the same families that are receiving seeds and cuttings from the FAO to grow vegetables such as green beans, lima beans and sweet potatoes.

The next major harvest begins in April.

Poverty, suffering

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, with three-quarters of Haitians living on less than $2 a day. Half the population is undernourished.

The island nation is third on the list of countries that are most affected by extreme weather events, the Climate Risk Index reported.

Over the last two decades, Haiti has been repeatedly hit by severe natural disasters, including storms, floods, landslides, drought and earthquakes. The worst was the devastating earthquake in January 2010, which killed 200,000 people.

This year, Haiti experienced its third consecutive year of drought, exacerbated by the global El Nino weather phenomenon. Agricultural production was more than halved, forcing prices for locally grown food up by about 40 percent.

El Nino, a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, can lead to scorching weather across Asia and Africa.