Starving people in Haiti eating mud

Today's New York Times has a scary article about food shortages around the world, including heart-breaking slide shows and videos of people digging in dumps for morsels of anything with digestible calories.

In Haiti, vendors are selling flavored mud to starving people.

In Haiti, where three-quarters of the population earns less than $2 a day and one in five children is chronically malnourished, the one business booming amid all the gloom is the selling of patties made of mud, oil and sugar, typically consumed only by the most destitute.

“It’s salty and it has butter and you don’t know you’re eating dirt,” said Olwich Louis Jeune, 24, who has taken to eating them more often in recent months. “It makes your stomach quiet down.”



  1. “HEY– this mud you sold me tastes like shit! I specifically ordered the mud, not the shit that’s on special today!”

    Sorry– yes it is pretty sad, and I can only think that in the future this is something we can all look forward to.

    . . . and to think Ted Turner could be so “crazy” as to think we’d resort to cannibalism in dire circumstances.

  2. Heartbreaking, indeed. However, I would have thought twice about making the face of this tragedy a woman with 18 children in that video. Because that’s just fucking ridiculous.

  3. I live in Haiti, and when I find news about Haiti it’s often some variation on the story “people in Haiti are so poor they eat dirt”. I think it may be more complex than that. I live in an area that is poor, but not especially poor by Haiti standards. The vendors selling candy on the side of the road will often have a stack of mud cakes next to the candy, and I have seen children choosing to buy them instead of candy – very odd. Apparently, only a particular kind of fine-grained clay is used, and it is mixed with butter and salt and flavored. Pregnant women especially seem to crave the mud cakes. I theorize that there are minerals in the mud that Haitians aren’t getting from the standard rice and beans diet.

    I’m not saying that the statement “Haitians are so poor, they have to eat dirt” is 100% false, but I don’t think poverty is the only reason for this. No, I haven’t tried eating one yet.

  4. How about sending one or two of the 150,000 fuckin’ pigs offed in Canada recently.

    On a related note, I saw on Discovery or maybe it was Nat Geo recently a program on elephants that dig down in a specific pool of water for clay that contains minerals they need in their diet and are lacking. Only that clay has it. That was cool, this is not.

    Makes me sad when I hear about stuff like this and I’m sitting here at my desk looking at the lunch I didn’t finish because I was busy; I bet there is someone that would want it.

    And no, I’m never too busy to waste time in the internet.

  5. Of course I can’t find the reference but I read that the people aren’t eating mud as food. They are eating the mud patties because they work as antacids. If you’ve ever eaten an antacid you might have noticed they taste like chalk, so it’s quite conceivable.
    Of course they wouldn’t need antacids if they could eat food instead.
    But people shouldn’t get the wrong idea, that dumb Haitians think earth is a better caloric choice than rats or whatever else is available.

  6. I just mixed some hardwood mulch with butter and now I have a mouth full of splinters. Thanks for the great idea!

    I’ve heard too much about starvation today. We should not turn food into fuel. It’s too sad to deal with.

  7. “We should not turn food into fuel.”

    We should also refrain from having multiple offspring whilst living at starvation level existences.

  8. Yeah, the whole Ethanol boondoggle is maddening.

    I saw we start a petition to demand that Midwestern farmers and politicians do something to help, by shipping good old American prairie soil to Haiti.

    If you’re going to eat dirt, it may as well be the best dirt in the world!

    (I’m allowed to joke about this because I donate to Oxfam and the Heifer Project.)

  9. I’m guessing the following episode of Dilbert was based on this:

    Watch the whole thing, go on. It’s funny.

  10. We should also refrain from having multiple offspring whilst living at starvation level existences.

    But contraception is against their (religion/morals/ beliefs/culture/heritage/whatever).

  11. What Hellhead said, and I have to wonder how new and unusual the behaviour of searching dumps for edible calories is. Not to make little of the fact that these people are so poor, but I wonder about the overt link with this week’s news of rising food prices. That there are people that are this poor is not a new thing, and if there are calories to be had from rich people’s garbage, chances are that people have been scavenging it for years anyway.

  12. In Haiti, vendors are selling flavored mud to starving people.

    I only came here for the Starbucks snark. Still waiting…

  13. “We should also refrain from having multiple offspring whilst living at starvation level existences.”

    One might think that, but then one would be wrong.

    Reproductive Strategies

    People seem quick to dismiss the article. It’s almost as if they feel anxious and guilty. I wonder why that might be?

  14. “But contraception is against their (religion/morals/ beliefs/culture/heritage/whatever).”

    I think it’s more that contraception aids are not readily available and there is no education about contraception. I don’t think the mother who offered one of her five kids to the NY Times reporters sat down one day and said, “Hey, I know. I think I’ll raise a bunch of kids to die of starvation because contraception is against my moral beliefs.” I think she just had no choice.

  15. DloPwop:

    Yes, here in the southeast U.S., there is a long, long history of people (mostly poor, but not always) eating “dirt (and other “non-food” material, like laundry starch),” but not just because they can’t get anything else. Sometimes it’s pica (vitamin/mineral deficiency), but sometimes the material is considered, well, a local delicacy. I had a teacher in high school who grew up on a pig farm (his dad was the town pig castrator — awesome! — they had a chest freezer, my teacher said, chock full of “mountain oysters”), and he told stories of when he and his brothers and sisters were kids, they used to run out to the woods and look for “sugar dirt.” Evidently this was some kind of very fine, dry, white clay you could find in little patches under trees — they used to lick their fingers and tap the stuff, then lick it off their fingertips. My teacher said it wasn’t the taste they liked so much as the special way it evidently crunched between the teeth. :)

    In some parts of the rural south you can even find “dirt” packaged in plastic, like steaks, in the fruit/vegetable areas of grocery stores. Of course the packages are labeled “not for consumption,” but everybody knows that’s just for John Law.

    I’m not saying they’re not starving in Haiti (and hundreds of other places), but I thought I ought to back up the postulation that one man’s dirt can be another man’s…yummy dirt.

    I’ll close with an aphorism of my great-grandmother’s, used often in circumstances where some dumb grandchild had dropped a cookie on the ground — it’s a variation of the three-second rule, I guess: “Wall, you gotta eat a pecka dirt before you die, anyways. God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt!” Maybe Haitians and Rebs are just trying to get it all down ahead of time.

  16. Agreed, it’s not the same when you’re actually starving and will eat anything that will fill your belly.

  17. There’s a lot more to the current food mess than bio-ethanol, and I’d be really interested in seeing posts and news articles from three years ago from all the smug folks who are now telling us that bio-ethanol is “obviously” wrong-headed. Hindsight is so easy.

    I’ve always been tepid on bio-ethanol because I thought it was energy-inefficient, and algal bio-diesel is so obviously superior in potential. But up until last year the “food problem” was that we were neck deep in the stuff without any efficient way to get it to the poor and hungry. We had poor farmers, too much food, and no efficient way to get it to the really poor people who needed it.

    I guess there have been experts who were aware that bio-ethanol could cause a food price spike, but it certainly never filtered down even to the semi-popular media.

    In any case, food prices are high now in part for the same reason that other commodity prices are high: booming demand from the developing world. What we are seeing is not a food shortage in the usual sense, but a food imbalance of a kind not totally dissimilar to what we had before, but with even less wiggle room for the poor.

    So to my mind the core of the problem really hasn’t changed, and it is that we don’t have a better way of getting food to the poorest people other than something like:

    1) Donate aid money to possibly corrupt charities
    2) Charities spend money on food and perks
    3) Food is shipped to corrupt receivers in country with poor and needy people
    4) Food is sold on the open/black market in country with poor and needy people

    For government aid, much the same process is used, but with the corrupt charities cut out and replaced by corrupt government officials. People who advocate for doing more of this kind of thing seem to me as blind as those who think that invading Iran will bring peace and stability to the Middle East. The sure sign of a doctrinaire moron is the belief that when your ideologically favoured policy fails, the correct solution is to do more of it.

    The charity/aid system is entirely unresponsive to the needs of the people at the bottom, who have no way of even expressing their needs because in the market needs are expressed in dollars and these people don’t have any.

    Unfortunately, no better mechanism than markets have ever been found for organizing humans. If there had been, those better ways would have come to dominate our social organization instead of markets, which have deep and obvious flaws. We know with certainty that any form of top-down, centralized organization is poor, and that ethno-centric warlordism is far worse. Yet those two are the main competitors for markets as means of social organization.

    Democracy itself has always been an uneasy balance between listening to “the people” and listening to “the people’s money”, and again, the people who are in need here have so little money that they have very little democratic influence, even without the long history of egregious external interference in Haitian politics.

    So my own position on all this is: I don’t have a clue what the solution is, and am deeply distrustful of anyone who says they do. External interference has not always been badly motivated, but it has always ended badly.

    This suggests that poor Haitians might actually be better off if we simply had the courage to leave them alone for a while. Certainly nothing else has worked, and it’s kinda curious that the one place in the Caribbean that is the most isolated (Cuba) seems the least at risk for this kind of abject poverty, despite being a command economy of the most idiotic and vicious kind run by perfectly ordinary psychopaths who have their opponents jailed, tortured and killed for simply speaking their minds.

  18. Examine the possibility that a spike in food prices created by diversion of food resources to fuel would be beneficial to those nations presently facing new competition from ascending economies.

  19. In the case of Haiti bio-ethanol is a possible solution, not the cause of the hunger. The pig slaughter mentioned above is not an unusual event. It is standard agricultural policy in almost all industrial nations. Third world hunger comes from poverty and inequity, not an absolute shortage of food. But Haiti has sugar cane. Biofuel is a possible way to turn that sugarcane into fuel and/or money. See:

  20. I apologize beforehand if my comment seem a little rude but I’m sick of reading comments made from americans (or any citizen of another rich country by the way) trying to make jokes about other peoples suffering so they can seen witty on the internet.

    So, to all the people criticizing the lady with 18 children. I live in Brazil and we are no strangers to famine and starvation here. Also it’s not uncommon to find families living in the rural areas and shantytowns of Brazil with a large offspring. This usually happens because the family uses the work force of their sons and daughters to work in the family land or helping in other activities that can bring more income to the family. But this is not the point here. What I find truly fucking ridiculous is for someone to assume that people living in some of the poorer areas of the world, living with less than $ 2 a day as pointed in the article, will use this money to by condom or contraceptives.

    Or perhaps you think that poor people can’t fuck. Since they can’t have proper houses, can’t have a drink, can’t have good clothes, can’t even have a decent meal, sure thing they can’t fuck either.

    Give me a fucking break.

  21. Well — Brazil (not Nathan) has been doing it for years. China has just put restrictions on the export of fertilizers. As usual, I’m lost?

  22. yes Fergus, you did, but it’s all right now.

    Dear Machinehead:

    It is a common thing throughout human experience that ones offspring are also ones security in old age

  23. I know many people will eventually make the reference to Soylent green, but as time passess and prices for basic staples go up and up, the usefulness of already dead people being used for their meat and like materials becomes more and more attractive, as long as it looks edible ‘where’ it comes from is less of a concern, especially with the right spin and marketing campaign “People its for breakfast!” Its probably better to eat people than it is to eat mud anyways.

  24. Machinehead, I think the behavior of anyone making fun at the plight of these people (American or otherwise) is simply repugnant. Sadly many of the users of the internet are much like the population of Rome before the fall… so jaded that there is nothing left that shocks them.

    Jokes about people who’s level of starvation is this great are beyond bad taste.

  25. “A Modest Proposal” would be more apropos than Soylent Green.

    #18: So they’ll work it all out if they’re left to themselves?

    What will the sizable Haitian expat community think of that? Or the Dominican Republic? Or the Coast Guard, which would have to deal with the refugees? Or the DEA, after Haiti becomes a failed state and drug dealers turn it into their bitch?

    Haiti could be the poster child for compassion fatigue, but not caring won’t help any better than helping in the wrong way.

  26. A major cause of HOW a nation ends up in such conditions is external. As in a Kleptocratic world order that has Schadenfreude as it’s literal heartbeat. The comments about Canada’s pig disposal are a “tip of the iceberg” factor. America has foisted a truly evil concept called CRP upon farmers. Which is explained in Neo-Pravda evocative style here:

    Complete with the obligatory smokescreen of defectors listed to mask it as being propaganda.

    See the NPR take on the subject for balance:

    And then we see why us in America are soon to emulate Hati.

  27. John Kenneth Galbraith cites Haiti as an example of the Sub-Saharan African Model of underdevelopment (even though, obviously, it’s not in Africa). That is, the core problem, according to him, is the lack of an educated middle class to administer the government. He traces this to the model of colonization employed in these countries, where “positions of skill and responsibility were until recently in the hands of non-Africans.” (This in contrast to the Asian and South American models of colonization.) To quote further from his essay The Causes of Poverty: A Classification:

    The inadequacy of government reflects the absence of schools, colleges and cultural environment for producing or preparing people for public tasks. All discussion of economic development involves difficult problems of sequence and circularity. This is an example: How does a country get an educational system without an adequate government? How does it get a government without the qualified people that an educational system provides? There is no obvious answer. But it helps to have narrowed the problem to this point. For we then recognize that little is accomplished by action that does not break into this particular circle.

    Important to consider his advice before we start proposing a policy of non-intervention, or of merely sending pigs and condoms their way.

    One more bit from the essay:

    “No country is without some small group of honest and competent people in some area of economic activity or government. But in those countries where colonialism was exploitative or aggressive – where there was no liberalizing urge that sought to prepare people for some role other than that of primitive agriculture – this group is very small. . . . All that is needed is for the perilously small group of competent and honest people to be overwhelmed by those who see government in predatory and personal terms.

    At this point he specifically mentions Haiti. (It’s an awesome book, Economics, Peace, and Laughter, Houghton Mifflin 1971.)

  28. Machinehead,

    If everyone keeps having 18 children, we’re all dead in a couple of generations. I don’t really give a shit what the reason is. Have 18 children to work your farm, then your children have to clear 18,000 acres of rain forest for their own farms. Why are you infantilizing them by insisting that they are incapable of making more sustainable choices? I find that more than a little racist and patronizing.

  29. Scenarios like this will only become more frequent. We’ve passed peak oil and yet we lack the political will or technological skill to develop alternative energy sources in sufficient amounts to replace fossil fuels so that business can go on as usual. The planet’s ecosystem is critically unbalanced and human beings have multiplied beyond the capacity of the planet to sustain them without having what’s left of its natural resources completely ravaged. The most likely consequence of all this is that the human population will crash. We are seeing the beginning of a long process of localized die-offs of the human species. Our chickens have finally come home to roost. Time for the planet to bring itself back into balance.

  30. Haiti happened because the bloody French created a society with disstain for those who could DO in favour of a bunch of university educated ponces incapable of any engineering.

    And then America took advantage of that.

  31. Antinous, the polygamist FLDS folks have similar vagina/clown car issues, and yet knowing the conditions there, it’s hard to sit around blaming the women for not making sustainable choices, given the limited options they had. I don’t think that’s racist or patronizing.

    But then, I really don’t know what the options facing a Haitian woman are.

  32. but Antinous, it is a foregone conclusion that not all eighteen will survive.

    I hereby accuse you of a semi-circular argument. If they have 18, you’re right, they probably won’t all survive. If they have two or three, they probably will. My point is that if China and India can rein in their populations (which they have done quite well compared to other poor countries), it is possible for Haitians to do it. Saying that people can’t not have 18 kids is just reducing the ‘little dark people’ to hormones and instincts. Give them some better options and they’ll probably take them.

  33. India experienced much more benign colonization than Haiti (Haiti won its independence in a slave rebellion). The British, while not heroes (Amritsar), at least failed to exclude Indians from education and positions in government.

    China, of course, has a well-established, centuries-old education and public service system.

    Haiti’s got none of that.

    (Not trying to be contentious, Antinous – you’re just one of the smartest people I get to talk to on the whole Internets, so heck, I’m going for it.)

  34. Nations and peoples have the right and the responsibility to get their shit together under their own steam and based on their own needs and wants. No amount of intervention can replace true self-determination. They’ve been (sort of) independent for two centuries, marked by an endless series of coups. They will either sink or swim or spend all eternity suffering, but there’s not a goddamn thing that anybody can or should do about it.

  35. Dear Antinous.

    As I said I’m a brazilian and we have the same sort of situation here in the poorer areas of the country, so if my comment was racist I would have been racist against myself. I do think people can make better choices than raising the number of members in a family to 20. This happens when people HAVE a choice. What I pointed was that expecting someone who has less than $ 2 a day to sustain themselves to spend this money in contraceptives is ridiculous. And it really is.

    Here in Brazil the number of child per couple is steadily decreasing over the last decades, this happened because the population started to have access to education, public health and family planning policies. What Haitians need, as anyone else, is economic development and state policies that grant them access to education and public health policies that offer them a choice other than misery and starvation. So then you can actually have a choice in the number of members in your family.

    I totally agree with you that a family of 20 members is not sustainable, but people living in these conditions are not guilty ones. They are the victims here.

  36. They are the victims here.

    They’re also the perpetrators. They’re both. Nobody can fix their lives but themselves. The government of Haiti is not going to provide any services. There’s no governmental magic wand that provides health care and education and birth control. It’s a nice idea, but if it hasn’t happened in 200 years, it’s not going to happen in the next decade as the world economy gets worse. If the people don’t find their own solutions, they’ll have the same repressive dictatorships, twice the people and half the food.

  37. “in the face of death; laugh” is trite and disingenuous. (If as mild a word as disingenuous belongs at all in a conversation about people starving to death en masse).

    I will be the first to defend the right of the Haitians who are starving to mock their own plight and laugh in the face of death.

    *You* are not facing death. *You* are sitting fat & happy at your computer. As am I.

  38. Dear Antinous.

    Allow me just to quote you here: “Give them some better options and they’ll probably take them”

    That has been my hole point since the beginning.

  39. “If they have 18, you’re right, they probably won’t all survive. If they have two or three, they probably will.”

    Ah… but which two or three? People adopt r-selection when food is scarce and mortality high. It is a rational response under certain conditions. When they become more affluent and feel more secure (and well fed) they switch to K-selection.

    Haiti is the poorest of the poor. They’ve never had much real control over their lives, the poor never do. I suspect that powerful forces want it that way.

  40. Stefan Jones @37: I’m assuming you were responding to me with your remark about “so left to themselves they’ll work things out”.

    You then go on to say that not helping is as bad as “helping in the wrong way.”

    My question is: what empirical evidence do you have that there is a right way to help?

    Can you show me one example of any nation anywhere that you consider to have been in a situation remotely similar to Haiti’s today (grinding poverty, dysfunctional government, history of foreign intervention with various motives but uniformly negative outcomes) that has subsequently had its situation materially improved by foreigners “helping in the right way”?

    I’m not totally ignorant of world history in the 20th century, and I can’t think of any such case. But I know that in many cases nations have tried to help. Yet it has always, every single time, been in one of the indenumerably infinite “wrong ways.”

    Until I see an example that is plausibly similar I’m going to contend that the idea of “helping in the right way” is a phantasm, a myth to assuage the agony of not being able to do a damned thing about the suffering of our fellow-humans. Belief that there is something that could be done if only people would listen to you gives one a feeling of power in a situation where we are essentially and intolerably powerless.

  41. what options then?

    Let’s just say that they involve the Pope and duct tape. Getting condoms to people is cheap and easy. For that matter, the rhythm method is highly effective for anyone with a thermometer and a regular cycle. Except for one little barrier. Ideology. Haiti and Brazil are Catholic countries. China and India are not.

    Realistically, everyone on earth outside of the jungles of the Amazon and the Congo are aware of the existence of birth control and have heard about family planning. I don’t believe that the good people of the Third World are too stupid to realize that there’s a relationship between mouths to feed and starvation. Noen is correct to point out reproductive strategies. It is well within the intellectual reach of the most uneducated villager to see the need to change strategies in the face of limited resources. All that leaves in the way is condoms and ideology.

    I’m begging you to give these people some credit. They are not completely at the mercy of external factors. They have brains and they can make some choices even in the most straitened circumstances. There is no other solution coming. None.

  42. Everyone here has forgotten/overlooked the Catholic Church’s stance on limiting childbirth. Unless I am wrong Haiti because it was a French Colony was forced into Catholicism by their captors. This is by itself hard to over come then add to it the age old tradition of large families to support their elders in their dotage.

    Education and an honest Government in Haiti might be the long term answer, but for now stop biofuels and distribute foods at a local level.

  43. And again we return to my point. If you want the people in Haiti to start to use condoms you need at least to make them available to the population. Again, if they don’t have money to by food, don’t expect them to use the scarce money that they have to buy condoms. Again they need state policy in birth control. India has sterilization programs and China offers abortion free of charge to every woman that wants to.

  44. If you want the people in Haiti to start to use condoms you need at least to make them available to the population.

    Who is the ‘you’ in your proposition? The Haitian government has been, is and for some time will be, the enemy of the Haitian people. What being, body or force is going to do this? When they decide that they want to limit the number of children, they’ll figure out a way to make that happen. Until they figure it out, they will continue to starve. I’m not making a moral argument, just what I think is a realistic appraisal of the situation. If they don’t solve their own problems, the problems will continue.

  45. hmm

    “But today, Haiti and Rwanda are considered two of the world’s true CSM success stories. After the AIDSCAP/PSI CSM program was launched in Haiti, for example, national monthly condom sales increased more than a hundredfold — from an average of 3,000 to more than 400,000 — even during the worst of the country’s turmoil. AIDSCAP/PSI’s Rwanda program, forced to close for eight months when the bloodshed began, opened 1,500 new points of sale and achieved impressive average monthly sales of more than 229,000 soon after it resumed in 1996.”

  46. I made a joke about their plight, and realized it was macabre, apologized, and yet still posted it.

    I do feel for them, as I feel for all the poor of the Earth, but the politics of the world make me so disenfranchised that it sometimes seems like all I have left to cheer me up is jokes. Russians had a myriad of jokes decrying their lot under the Soviets, often told under penalty of imprisonment, but they still told them amongst themselves; whatever it takes to make life bearable, whether it’s eating mud or dark humor.

    Ultimately I know that if I live long enough, the plight of starving Haitians (or Brazilians, or Africans, or _____?) will be my own plight as well. The ship is sinking, the captain(s) won’t listen, there are no lifeboats, and most of us (myself included) cannot swim, so instead I will crack jokes. “Cheer up, we probably won’t drown, after all– look at all those sharks!” (Please forgive me if that is an inappropriate metaphor.)

  47. April 99

    “in contrast, in Haiti and Rwanda the absence of taxes and tariffs on imported condoms has enabled social marketing programs to keep their prices low. In Haiti a packet of three social-marketing Pante condoms recently was priced at just 6 US cents (128). Other countries that impose no duties on imported condoms include Bangladesh, Botswana, the Dominican Republic, and Tanzania (228).”

  48. BBC News from 2003:

    There is only one doctor per 10,000 Haitians and many have to walk for hours to reach a health clinic. . . .

    Perhaps even more of a challenge for the authorities is the predominance of sexual activity at an early age in Haiti.

    The average age for young people to begin sexual relations is 12, with many young boys and girls starting to have sex as early as eight years old, according to Dr Deschamps.

  49. Population:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, lower population growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2008 est.)
    Age structure:
    Definition Field Listing
    0-14 years: 41.8% (male 1,881,509/female 1,851,591)
    15-64 years: 54.7% (male 2,386,761/female 2,495,233)
    65 years and over: 3.5% (male 135,695/female 173,764) (2008 est.)
    Median age:
    Definition Field Listing
    total: 18.5 years
    male: 18.1 years
    female: 19 years (2008 est.)
    Population growth rate:
    Definition Field Listing
    2.493% (2008 est.)
    Birth rate:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    35.69 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
    Death rate:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    10.15 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
    Net migration rate:
    Definition Field Listing
    -0.61 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2008 est.)
    Sex ratio:
    Definition Field Listing
    at birth: 1.03 male(s)/female
    under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
    15-64 years: 0.96 male(s)/female
    65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
    total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
    Infant mortality rate:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    total: 62.33 deaths/1,000 live births
    male: 66.88 deaths/1,000 live births
    female: 57.64 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
    Life expectancy at birth:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    total population: 57.56 years
    male: 55.83 years
    female: 59.35 years (2008 est.)
    Total fertility rate:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    4.79 children born/woman (2008 est.)
    HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    5.6% (2003 est.)
    HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    280,000 (2003 est.)
    HIV/AIDS – deaths:
    Definition Field Listing Rank Order
    24,000 (2003 est.)
    Major infectious diseases:
    Definition Field Listing
    degree of risk: high
    food or waterborne diseases: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever
    vectorborne diseases: dengue fever and malaria
    water contact disease: leptospirosis (2008)

  50. Victim-blaming is so cute.

    Anyway, the various fertility awareness methods are fairly effective, but only if you’ve been taught how to use them properly. Which requires:

    1) that there are doctors to teach them
    2) that the people who need/want to use them have access to these doctors (geographically, monetarily, etc)
    3) that they have the supplies to use them (uh, thermometers – I have no idea how easy these are to find or how much they cost in poor areas of Haiti, but hopefully it’s the smallest issue).

    Failure rates of FA methods vary between 3-25% depending on how well the user gets it. This isn’t the easy-peasy “everyone knows how!” solution that Antinous is making it out to be.

    Heck, I had to do some research before I realized that there were non-obsolute natural contraceptive methods, and I’m a young, Western-educated woman who sees a gynecologist from an excellent American university hospital Through the luck of birth and circumstance, the chips are in my favor for access to this knowledge.

    Calling other people racist and patronizing for recognizing that there are people on this planet who haven’t been as lucky education and health-wise as the folks in this discussion, and that this doesn’t make them stupid or deserving of their problems, even if we think they would make different life choices with more access to information – well, jeez. I’m not sure what to say to that.

  51. So what’s your solution then? Anyone can use a condom. They’re cheap. They require no expertise. Everyone knows that they exist.

    It’s not blaming the victim to suggest that whatever solution arises will arise from the Haitians. Or maybe we should depose their government and install one that we think will work better. That always works well.

    Like many commenters, you’ve talked about how horrible the problem is, but you haven’t suggested any solution except that ‘somebody’ should provide education, healthcare and supplies. How is that helpful?

  52. I feel quite bad for them. I don’t think sending them food is an answer, though. This is a scenario that will not get any better until you fix their ability to survive on their own.

    As far as birth control options go… this is a little crude but,

    Pull out. Also, oral and anal sex don’t tend to produce offspring.

    The condom free strategy for birth control.

  53. Antinous I like your Pope idea but we need to secretly replace him with Jocelyn Elders instead of letting them elect a new one.

  54. Dear Antinous.

    I don’t know were you live but I assume it is in some place north of myself. I do not work directly in public health, but my graduation is in psychology and I read some texts dealing with human sexuality and public health in Brazil, published in scientific journals, related to policies of STD prevention implemented by the government here. Man you would be amazed to discover how that people living in poor conditions and having no access to information or education have no idea whatsoever about birth control strategies. Even if you are from some developed country I’m sure that you have had some friend in your live that got an unwanted pregnancy. Imagine how hard is to have the means to prevent an unwanted pregnancy when you have to live in a place like favela da maré, a shantytown here in Rio de Janeiro. My friend you have no idea what are the conditions of life there. I will not pretend that I have the answer for the problem that Haitians (or the population of other developing countries) are facing regarding birth control. But I do know that what is making a difference here in my country and that is granting the population access to information and increasing the range of the public health policy regarding STD and family planning.

    Dear Rabican.

    Thank you very much for expressing in a more articulated way what I was trying to say since the beginning.

  55. It seems to me that people can be taught how to use a condom in five minutes or less, as opposed to laughably ineffective rhythm methods which could be explained for a week and still be useless.

    One absolute, incontestable fact: religious obstacles that could be removed at the arbitrary fiat of a single pope are EVIL.

    The ONLY REASON condoms are condemned by the pope is because he would rather have lots of followers, sick or starving, because he places quantity of tithe payers and power givers over quality of human life.

  56. Hi there again Antinous.

    I’m also 100% in favor of birth control here my friend. It seems to me that we only disagree about the methods to achieve that in a developing country. I mean no offense man but you seem to think that the only thing that should be done, if even that at all, is to throw some condoms from an airplane and lets be done with that. I in the other hand believe that the solution for the problem of birth control in developing countries is solved through public health policies that grant universal access to contraception methods and education.

    I’m also 100% in favor of self-determination, people should be able to make their on choices and deal with the consequences. The thing that I’m pointing is that starving people in developing countries DOT’N have a choice. Not in the same way that you and I have. And that it is not right, as Rabican have pointed, to blame them for their misery. Especially if they live in places like a haitian or brazilian favela.

    That’s it my friend. And Rabican putted in a perfect and more polite way the point that I was trying to make since the beginning.

    PS – By the way, I should have said that since the beginning but sorry for any errors in my English. It’s not my first language.

  57. Antinous,

    I believe Machinehead’s point is that you just cannot assume people everywhere know what is obvious to you. Teens in the US get pregnant, for example, because they think they can’t get pregnant the first time. Globally, some of the quotes from this report from the Guttmacher Institute are interesting (

    “More than three in five married women in North Africa and West Asia with an unmet need [for contraception], nearly half in Latin America and more than one-third in South and Southeast Asia and in Sub-Saharan Africa are not using contraceptives because they do not believe
    they are at risk of getting pregnant.”

    “Among never-married women in many countries, infrequent sexual activity is by far the most common reason for not using contraceptives, followed by the idea that they need not or should not begin contraceptive use until they are married.”

    The brief also mentions that in some countries there are beliefs about the side effects of contraception that may deter use (which may or may not be accurate). Another thing to consider is whether or not the sexual partner of the woman is in favor of using a condom or other contraception.

    I appreciate that you seem to not want to underestimate the intelligence of women in Haiti or any other developing country, but intelligence is not the same as access to knowledge. These women will get this kind of knowledge (when they are actually at risk for pregnancy, what are the actual side effects of contraception, if any) more efficiently if someone from outside goes in to help them. It’s definitely more complicated than “well, condoms are cheap and everyone knows about them, so what’s the deal?”

  58. “Teens in the US get pregnant, for example, because they think they can’t get pregnant the first time.”

    I was a teen last in 1992. I don’t, even back then, remember ANYONE believing this. And I lived in West Viriginia. One of the most backward states in the Union.

    I wonder where they get this stuff at?

    I mean do I think that out there there are girls that believe this because some idiot guy told them this when they was 13? Sure.

    But it’s certainly not the norm. Not even close. That’s why I hate statements like that. They always get exaggerated.

    Again 20 years ago we ALL got sex education in the 6th grade. We are told and taught better. Now I am sure there are those that don’t pay attention or whatever. But they days of girls being stupid about sex in the US are pretty much over.

    Especially with the advent of the internet.

  59. “Dear DloPwop:
    Have you further to help us out here?”

    Takuan: I’m not sure what I should comment on, Haitians eating mud cakes or birth control. I’m surprised nobody has asked me to go buy a mud cake and eat it so I can share with the group what they taste like. I’m game, but if nobody’s interested I would prefer to snack on other things.

    I really appreciated Sugarbat’s comments on eating dirt in the rural south. Imagine, dirt for sale in an American grocery store! It confirms that there is more to this practice than meets the eye.

    I don’t have anything to say about birth control, but I might have insight as to why Haitians choose to have so many babies. It’s definitely not lack of access to birth control.

    Virtually all the poor people I know here (the poor are about 99% of Haitians) have lost a child, a brother, sister, cousin, or all of the above. For the poor, family is everything, because they don’t have much else. I would guess that women choose to have babies they may not be able to support because they have seen so many children lost, and need to be sure they will have close family throughout their lives.

    An article I read in the Economist called humans (paraphrased) “The only species that reproduces LESS when it has a surplus of food available to eat”. It seems that when you look at the development of nations, stability comes first, eventually the food supply is stabilized, and then a generation or so goes by until childhood death becomes the exception to the rule and the birthrate comes down to a sustainable level.

    Haiti has a long way to go, and they need our help to give them and hand up and out of poverty.

  60. As someone else who lives here in Haiti I’d like to add my two cents, for what they may be worth.

    One thing I’ve learned since moving here is that when you are interacting with a culture so different from your own (I’m Canadian) the solutions to the problems that you see around you are never simple because the issues are not the result of any one thing, but rather a combination of things all working together.

    There’s been a lot of discussion about high birth rates. It’s true, Haiti has high birth rates, as do many third world countries. Being a woman I’ve had opportunity to talk to other women here and what I’ve learned are that there are many reasons for big families. In a country where people have very little materially that they can place value in, the wealth of an individual is often placed in the faces of their children. They see children as a gift and a blessing, even if they may not be able to meet the physical needs of that child. Women that don’t have children in what is considered a culturally accepted time frame are often ridiculed by people in the community so there is a lot of social pressure. There is a heavy Catholic influence here and that does affect how people think. There is also a lot of superstition and a lack of education. Just a little first hand insight. That said, condoms and birth control are available. The hospital down the road from us will give women a hysterectomy or tubal ligation when they deliver, if they want to. There in lies the key though – it’s a choice in the same way that I have a choice about whether or not I want to practice birth control and how I want to do that. I may not agree with what I see or all the reasons behind how people make their decisions, they are what they are.

    Working in the non-profit sector here I see a lot of different approaches to aid and development. From my personal experience, there are days where we feel like we’re not making much progress, and others where we feel like we’ve accomplished something. I have to remind myself that Haiti’s issues, like many developing countries, haven’t become issues overnight – they have taken generations to form, and they will take generations to overcome. As a North American who grew up with so much right at my finger tips it’s easy to expect that solutions should come quickly, but they don’t. It’s never as easy as throwing money around and addressing the issue en mass. It often means that my definition of “helping” needs to change. We often find that the most progress is made one person at a time, and that it happens through relationships, often in ways we don’t expect. I also need to remind myself that my country was founded not so long ago by people that spent every day just trying to survive. They had had large families and no birth control. They often didn’t know how to read and write and may or may not have been able to send their children to school. They died from diseases related to their sanitation and hygiene practices. They had to establish a form of government and a sense of justice.

    There may be many things here that leave me shaking my head in disbelief, but I believe that Haiti has the possibility of making something of itself, I just may not see it in my life time.

  61. KevinK,

    I didn’t mean that _all_ teens think they can’t get pregnant the first time they have sex, but some do. It’s really surprising sometimes what people don’t know or believe about sex, or biology, or science in general. I’m about your age (judging from when you were last a teenager), and I too had decent sex ed, but since then comprehensive sex ed has been replaced in a lot of places with some version of abstinence-only or less comprehensive sex ed. I’m in Minnesota (a relatively progressive state), and some people have been trying to get a bill passed requiring comprehensive sex ed in public schools for a few years now, and it’s likely to get vetoed. So, I worry, maybe not quite so much about the birds and bees side of things, but certainly about the STD part of things and if kids know how to protect themselves before they become sexually active. As far as educating yourself from the internet goes, sure, there’s some good info there, but then there are things like pro-anorexia and pro-suicide sites that make me wary of thinking teens will learn good health habits that way.

    Mmedlopwop and Dlopwop, thanks for your first-hand insights.

  62. Link

    So long as you are literate in English, and have a decent internet connection, you can help get rice where it is needed most. Click the link above, oh, say, now-ish.

    /why are you still reading this?

  63. “The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, earlier blamed the crisis on biofuels, speculation on commodities markets, and EU export subsidies. “Hunger has not been down to fate for a long time – just as Marx thought,” he told the Austrian newspaper Kurier am Sonntag. “This is silent mass murder.”

    Food riots have broken out in at least a dozen countries, most notably in Egypt, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Yemen and Mexico. Pakistan has reintroduced rationing, while Russia has frozen the price of milk, bread, eggs and cooking oil. Indonesia has increased public food subsidies, while India has banned the export of rice, except the high-quality basmati variety.

    Earlier this month, Haiti’s parliament dismissed the prime minister, and cut the price of rice, in an attempt to defuse widespread anger at food price hikes that led to days of protests and looting in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

    Thousands of garment workers in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, also went on strike this month over spiralling prices. The price of rice, the staple Bangladeshi food, has increased by a third since a devastating cyclone last year. Experts say 30 million of the country’s 150 million people could go without daily meals.

    The UN food agency has warned that it will need to make “heartbreaking” choices about which countries should receive its emergency aid, unless governments donate more money to buy increasingly expensive food.”

  64. General American disregard for suffering Haitians couldn’t be because Haiti is the first and only country established by a successful slave revolt, and thus is full of black people. . . could it?

    Sure, George Bush hates black people, but America in general doesn’t . . . does it?

    macon d

  65. Macon baby, if you really want to make that point, one posting here is enough. Over and over is just pissing us off.

  66. I can’t remember who said they couldn’t believe girls in America would believe you can’t get pregnant the first time…but I was that girl. Alot of girls I knew believed that. I heard it from other girls like they did and we all reinforced that belief in each other. I heard so many crazy things like that when I was a teenager (during the 80s), you wouldn’t believe it. Teenage girls are not so mature that they can discern scientific truth from rumors. And there was zero sex ed in our school district which was in a major metropolitan city. If no one tells a growing woman otherwise, she will believe these things into her adulthood.

    The hunger situation is also not just a third world problem. There are plenty of problems with distribution of food to the poor right here in America. I honestly think that greed is the number one reason that perfectly edible food is destroyed. For instance: someone I know works in a state-run food service institution, and they confiscate food and destroy it and refuse to give it to food banks because they say if they keep free food supplies short, then people will be forced to buy food, thereby keeping everyone involved in food production profitable. There is enough food to go around, and we will not run out of food. Rather, the situation is that more and more people are running out of enough money to buy food.

  67. aha! soon we will have them all. The Terminator Gene will make them bow down! Slaves!

    In lean times, biotech grains are less taboo
    By Andrew Pollack
    Published: April 21, 2008

    Soaring food prices and global grain shortages are bringing new pressures on governments, food companies and consumers to relax their longstanding resistance to genetically engineered crops.

    In Japan and South Korea, some manufacturers for the first time have begun buying genetically engineered corn for use in soft drinks, snacks and other foods. Until now, to avoid consumer backlash, the companies have paid extra to buy conventionally grown corn. But with prices having tripled in two years, it has become too expensive to be so finicky.

    “We cannot afford it,” said a corn buyer at Kato Kagaku, a Japanese maker of corn starch and corn syrup.

  68. What’s wrong with all you PC whiners out there?

    I’m reminded of a few “credos,” among them…

    First, either nothing is off limits or everything is off limits. It’s the South Park credo, and an apt one. While I’m not usually persuaded by slippery slope arguments, the censorship of humor IS a slippery slope, and one that is very important to watch. As soon as you say we can’t make fun of poor people, the next group up the list whines that they should be off limits to (or some activist group whines for them), and as we acquiesce to group after group, we will find that nothing is left to laugh at — except, maybe, quietly in our own homes. In “poor taste.” Some people find poor taste, itself, funny, myself among them. That brings me to the next credo that I find apt.

    “Love is never wrong.” I hear it invoked often in reference to homosexual rights, in which context I agree with it. The idea is that love is in short supply in this world and that we should focus on maximizing it OVER tailoring it (towards some notion of “appropriateness”). I think the same principle easily applies to humor. Laughter and humor are *intrinsically valuable.* As such, just like with love, it is better to maximize it than to worry about the appropriateness of each instantiation thereof.

    What is WRONG (“in poor taste” is such a silly moralistic concept) is increasing suffering. In this case, it would be wrong to point at them and laugh while they die (unless they felt better about the fact that their death could bring someone else some sort of happiness). To laugh over here is certainly not MORALLY wrong. “In poor taste” is not a moral ascription, but rather a knock at someone’s psychological well-being, and an ill-conceived knock.

    If YOU don’t find it funny, don’t laugh. Why ruin everyone else’s fun? I not only have the *right* to laugh at, and poke fun at, whatever I want — I also believe that such humor and fun ADD value to the world. It’s a good thing. Chill the fuck out.

  69. On another note — I hate the “poor people shouldn’t have 20 children” argument from the logically deficient. I hear it all the time even here in the U.S., in reference to a very different standard of “poor.” We all have built into us by evolution the compulsion to continue the species. Our DNA uses us as vessels to keep itself alive and ever-progressing. In “normal” evolution, this is often described as “survival of the fittest,” wherein adaptive mutations and behaviors increase the chances of survival, and therefore their own continuance. In humans, our goal is rarely “survival” as much as it is “success.” Because of the dynamics of our societies make it much easier for those born rich to be “successful” than those born poor, we are forced to engage in behaviors that increase the likelihood that our DNA will somehow make it “to the top.” That means that rich people typically only need one offspring (often for an entire extended family), who then has a very high chance of “success.” Conversely, the poor have a low chance of their offspring making it “to the top” (or to a secure position on the ladder), so they have to hedge their bets. The only way in a modern economy to do that is to have many offspring. If a family has a 5% chance that their children will succeed in this world, then they should have 20 children. Unfortunately, they more likely have a 0.05% chance or so, but one can only have so many children. We are all driven by our DNA, so it is silly to judge people based on such ideals as the individual happiness quotients of each child in that family. We are driven towards a more distant future.

    I plan to have 20 kids just because I like my genes ;)

  70. This is what happens when population growth outstrips an areas carrying compacity. Only birth control and population reduction can help people in these regions, but those that can’t afford food could not afford condoms or oral contraceptives even if they were educated and inclined to use them.

  71. Geophagy – Eating Dirt
    A Traditional Practice Which Provides Nutrients to the Body

    Stress Eating
    People around the world eat clay, dirt or other pieces of the lithosphere for a variety of reasons. Commonly, it is a traditional cultural activity which takes place during pregnancy, religious ceremonies, or as a remedy for disease. Most people who eat dirt live in Central Africa and the Southern United States. While it is a cultural practice, it also fills a physiological need for nutrients.
    In Africa, pregnant and lactating women are able to satisfy the very different nutritional needs of their bodies by eating clay. Often, the clay comes from favored clay pits and it is sold at market in a variety of sizes and with differing content of minerals. After purchase, the clays are stored in a belt-like cloth around the waist and eaten as desired and often without water. The “cravings” in pregnancy for a varied nutritional intake (during pregnancy, the body requires 20% more nutrients and 50% more during lactation) are solved by geophagy.

    The clay commonly ingested in Africa contains important nutrients such as: phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, and iron.

    The tradition of geophagy spread from Africa to the United States with slavery. A 1942 survey in Mississippi showed that…

    at least 25 percent of the schoolchildren habitually ate earth. Adults, although not systematically surveyed, also consumed earth. A number of reasons were given: earth is good for you; it helps pregnant women; it tastes good; it is sour like a lemon; it tastes better if smoked in the chimney; and so on.*

    Unfortunately, many African-Americans who practice geophagy (or quasi-geophagy) are eating unhealthy material such as laundry starch, ashes, chalk and lead-paint chips because of psychological need. These materials have no nutritional benefits and can lead to intestinal problems and disease. The eating of inappropriate objects and material is known as “pica.”

    There are good sites for nutritional clay in the Southern United States and sometimes family and friends will send “care packages” of good earth to expectant mothers in the North.

    Other Americans, such as the indigenous Pomo of Northern California used dirt in their diet – they mixed it with ground acorn; this neutralized the acid.

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