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From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

LAKOMA, Haiti, (Oct. 25) IPS - Lakoma, located about 300 kilometers
northwest of the capital Port-au-Prince, looks like a ghost town. The
village's streets are almost devoid of human activity. Windows and doors
are shuttered.
   Fear has reigned supreme here since more than 100 peasants were
massacred in 1987 by soldiers in the pay of big landowners. The small
farmers were demanding nothing more than a patch of land to grow enough
food to survive.
   A serious drought that has engulfed the northwest region has only added
to the woes of Lakoma's 1,000 residents. Nothing grows here anymore except
cactus and bayahondes, a local plant the farmers use to make charcoal. And
children must walk up to 15 km to obtain potable water for their families.
   Attempts to eke out an existence here have destroyed the land. Some
development projects which have operated here over the past few years have
yielded discouraging results.
   Under the Duvalier dictatorship of 1957-1986, the authorities dubbed
this region The Far West. Regularly hit by famine, people here survive
thanks to food shipments donated by humanitarian organizations.
   "Even the animals are beginning to die of thirst and hunger. The
pregnant women and the children don't know where to turn for relief from
this dreadful situation," says Henrio Richardson, president of the regional
committee of the Civic Youth Organization of the Far West (OCJF) based in
Jean-Rabel, a nearby town.
   The road system throughout the northwest is in terrible shape. As a
result, the region's towns live in isolation and farmers frequently watch
their harvests rot in the fields because they cannot get it to market.
   This situation is not peculiar to Lakoma, however.
   In the Mole Saint-Nicolas, Bombardopolis, and Baie-de-Henne areas, it is
the same story. Residents are forced to wait for government and
non-governmental organizations to send in aid shipments.
   The population explosion, too, has aggravated the situation. Since there
is not enough arable land to provide food for everyone, whole villages are
emptied when people illegally cross the border to become sugarcane cutters
in the Dominican Republic.
   But as bad as the situation is in the rural areas, poverty is worse in
the cities, where most of the poor live in shanty towns with no plumbing,
sanitation or garbage collection.
   In Cite Soleil, one of the country's largest slums, one family of eight
lives in an area measuring less than three square meters.
   "We sleep in shifts," says Bob, the father.
   The situation is not peculiar to Cite Soleil. In many other
working-class Port-au-Prince neighborhoods, the housing situation is every
bit as bad.
   According to some estimates, more than 800,000 people live in
sub-standard conditions. Here, children defecate in public in washbasins
crawling with insects, while right next to them, people try to ease their
hunger pangs by chewing on sugar cane.
   There is no running water. Those who can afford to, buy their water in
18 litre containers for the equivalent of 10 cents. The average daily
salary is only $1.40.
   The most recent report on human development by the United Nations
Development Program ranks Haiti 150th in the world. The northern Caribbean
nation remains the only country in the western hemisphere which is still
classified as poorly developed.
   According to the United Nations Population Fund, 80 percent of Haiti's
8.2 million people are poor. More than 73 percent are classified as
extremely poor.
   And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says 62 percent
of Haitians at any one time have no food at all, and 24 percent eat a daily
ration which provides less than their nutritional needs.
   Furthermore, 8 percent of Haiti's children under the age of 15 suffer
from malnutrition. In comparison, the children of Haiti's closest neighbors
are well off. Only 1 percent of children in the Dominican Republic, 2
percent of those in Jamaica and 3 percent of Cuba's children are classified
as malnourished.
   A December 1999 joint report by the local bureau of the United Nations
Children's Fund and the Canadian relief organization Aid the
Children-Canada found that nearly 10,000 Haitian children are homeless.
More than 10 percent of these street children are between the ages of 5 and
   Additionally more than 250,000 children in Haiti must work to help
support themselves and their families.
   The consequences of poverty has meant that young Haitians are dying at a
far faster rate than those in countries nearby. The death rate for Haitians
under 40 is 27 percent. In Cuba, that rate is 4 percent, it is 5 percent in
Jamaica and 9 percent in the Dominican Republic.
   Living conditions in Haiti have worsened over the last six months
because of an aggravated political crisis, which has frozen some $900
million in annual foreign aid.