While relief agency leaders breathed a sigh of relief at the eleventh-hour negotiations that averted an invasion of Haiti last month, they say it will take a major humanitarian effort to lessen poverty and hunger in the country.

Although many anxiously wait for democracy to take root in this troubled country, most of Haiti's poor are looking for more immediate basics of life-food, clean water, safety, and perhaps a job.

U.S.-led troops brought the prospect of political change, but humanitarian help was not so quick in coming. According to Food for the Poor executive director James Cavnar, ships did not begin transporting supplies to Haiti until almost two weeks after the first troops landed.

International sanctions against Haiti had a devastating impact on missionary and church groups working in the impoverished nation (CT, July 18, 1994, p. 52). "The embargo has caused a depletion of essential goods and materials needed to maintain a society," says Wally Admundson, regional director for Adventist Development and Relief Agency International, headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland. "Everything has been affected: agriculture, small industry, medical services, the food supply, and education."

"We were not able to ship food since last May," Cavnar said. "Our warehouses were empty." The Deerfield Beach, Florida-based Food for the Poor has contributed more than $44 million in goods to Haiti since 1982. Shipping lines carrying food and medical supplies reopened only after the accord calling for the resignation of Gen. Raoul Cedras and his top military officers and the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

With relief supplies now flowing, many agencies are mounting large fundraising campaigns to buy food, medicine, and construction supplies. With food shipments now in storage in Port-au-Prince, the real problem is getting food to the most needy.

According to Worldteam USA president Terry Harder, even with massive economic humanitarian efforts, "It is well known that food does not always reach those most in need." This is why local agencies working in communities throughout Haiti are best able to see that aid is efficiently and equitably distributed.

The Evangelical Baptist Mission of South Haiti, the largest evangelical group, has had a program to furnish monthly food provisions for 500 of their neediest families throughout their 320 congregations. According to mission president Chavannes Jeune, for the past three years "our pastors have agonized as they have watched people in their churches and communities slowly starve."

"We have not been able to fill requests from churches and schools," Cavnar says. "We have begun an aggressive campaign to raise $3 million to fill these needs."

Fred Gregory, president of the Seattle-based World Concern, says now that a U.S.-Haiti war has been avoided, the real battle is to fight "illiteracy, unemployment, disease, and hunger."

Meeting basic needs of life is a key ingredient in the process of restoring stability and peace to the political life of a nation. Many organizations, including the U.S. military, are finding that this is easier said than done.

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