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Haitians choose between school fees or food as costs rise

Monday, 18 July 2022 10:45 GMT

Bar owner Junior Ferdinand in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti. July 4, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Jennifer D. Delva

The inflation diaries: A third of Haitians live in extreme poverty. As prices of staple goods spike, they have little left to cut

By Joseph Guyler Delva and Anastasia Moloney

PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Haitian domestic worker Rose Marie Saint-Fort had to pull two of her three teenage children out of classes this year as spiraling living costs meant she could no longer afford their school fees.

Like a majority of Haitians, Saint-Fort spends more than 60% of her income on food. With inflation sharply rising, many families have been forced to choose between skipping meals and or not sending their children to school.

"I have to spend most of my salary on food and school fees for my son," said Saint-Fort, whose two daughters aged 13 and 15 have been forced to drop out.

"It's been very hard for me to watch my children sitting at home, not being able to attend school while their wish is to be in a classroom."

Haiti's lack of functioning government means there is no reliable up-to-date official inflation data, but independent economist Etzer Emile estimated that it is running at more than 25%.

Since December, inflation across the Caribbean nation has seen prices of staple food rice rise by 44% and beans by about 128%, while the cost of cooking oil nearly doubled, according to stallholders at a Port-au-Prince food market.

Countries worldwide have been hit by a perfect storm of rising global food and energy costs, largely triggered by the Ukraine war and fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roughly a third of Haiti's 11.4 million people live in extreme poverty, barely surviving on less than $2.15 a day, and about 4 million struggle to eat two meals a day.

That means even tiny price hikes can push people to the brink.

Haitian domestic worker Rose Marie Saint-Fort washes dishes at the house she works in. Port-au-Prince, Haiti. July 4, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Jennifer D. Delva

"One year ago, I could more or less live with my salary because the cost of living wasn't so high. Now, you need more than twice the money you needed to buy basic core products," said Saint-Fort, 40, as she cleaned dishes.

"Unfortunately I don't have the means to leave the country, because it's clear my children have no future here."

Rising prices have been a cause of social unrest in Haiti. In 2008, a week of food riots left at least five people dead and fueled political instability.

For Pascal Pierre-Louis, 37, a high school teacher in the capital, Port-au-Prince, the inflationary squeeze has become "unbearable."

"The worst is that you don't see any sign that things will change for the better any time soon. Basic necessities will become more inaccessible," he said.

With little or no government help for the poor, most Haitians rely on food aid and money sent from relatives living abroad to survive.

Haiti's economic woes are compounded by long-standing political instability and the country has been in a political vacuum since President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in July 2021.

Rising gang violence has forced thousands of small businesses to shut up shop or reduce their opening hours.

"I stay open for only a few - four or five hours - while before I used to open for a whole day until very late in the night," said Junior Ferdinand, a 35-year-old bar owner in downtown Port-au-Prince.

"People are afraid to go out and when they stay home my business doesn't work. Practically for me it's bankruptcy."

(Reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince; Writing by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Sonia Elks;)

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