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Faculty Publishes on Child Food Insecurity in Haiti After the 2010 Earthquake

Royce Hutson, associate professor in Boise State’s School of Social Work, published “Features of Child Food Insecurity after the 2010 Haiti Earthquake: Results from Longitudinal Random Survey of Households” in PLOS ONE on September 10.

Hutson and his co-authors, Eileen Trzcinski, former faculty at Wayne State University’s School of Social Work, and Athena Kolbe, doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work and the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, surveyed 1,800 households in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2009 and returned to locate and survey those households after the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti that registered 7.0 on the Richter scale. The government estimated that 220,000-250,000 people died from the quake, with considerable damage to structures in the island nation. Previously published findings by Hutson and his colleagues had found that over 160,000 had died during the quake or in the six weeks after the quake in the greater Port-au-Prince area alone.

Hutson and his research team were able to locate and survey more than 93 percent of the original 1,800 households between Feb. 18 and March 4, 2010. Most households were near their location prior to the quake. The surveyors went to great lengths to locate those households who were not near their pre-quake location. The surveyors asked neighbors and local community leaders to help them locate the households and the surveyors traveled by bus, taxi, on foot and by donkey to other villages and cities to interview former Port-au-Prince residents that participated in the 2009 survey. Some displaced respondents were interviewed in-person in South Florida, New York, Boston and Montréal or by telephone.

The team found that food insecurity was common among the surveyed households after the earthquake. Food insecurity in a household means that the household lacks the ability to meet basic nutritional needs. This may mean that the household is skipping meals, cutting back the number or the amount of meals because of lack of food or the lack of ability to get food.

Hutson’s research team identified several household characteristics that were associated with increased food insecurity for children. If a household was vulnerable economically and/or psychologically prior to the quake, it remained vulnerable to food insecurity after the quake. Factors such as low income and poor living conditions coincided with households who experienced food insecurity.

Children who had not been attending school prior to the earthquake were more likely to experience some degree of food insecurity. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of the school-aged children in the households surveyed prior to the earthquake were not enrolled in school prior to the quake.

Additionally, the team’s results demonstrate that violence and experiencing physical or sexual assault diminishes the capabilities and functionings of both children and adults in the household. The children who experienced food insecurity were more likely to be living in households that were victimized prior to the earthquake with adult household members who had higher levels of post-traumatic stress. Likewise, if a household had a child or adult who suffered from a chronic or acute illness, the household had higher probabilities of food insecurity.

By understanding these household characteristics which coincide with food insecurity, reconstruction and redevelopment efforts can address some of these potential vulnerabilities before future natural disasters.