$47 million in grants to help Haiti's hungry

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Haitians affected by January’s devastating earthquake are expected to obtain work and food through programs funded by $47.5 million in foreign grants.

An estimated 100,000 households will receive food vouchers for about $40 each every month through next March. Each voucher is enough to purchase 44 pounds (20 kilograms) of rice, 88 pounds (40 kilograms) of red beans and one gallon (3.8 liters) of cooking oil, said the U.S. Agency for International Development, which recently awarded the grants.

The vouchers — funded by a $12.5 million grant awarded to international aid group Mercy Corps — will be honored by 135 vendors in the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite regions, said Paul Weisenfeld, USAID’s Haiti Task Team coordinator.

The voucher program is useful because it “gives people better control over their lives instead of us telling people what to do with lives,” Weisenfeld said.

The USAID has awarded a second, $35 million grant to the World Food Program, which runs a cash-for-work program. The program already employs nearly 50,000 but with the grant is expected to grow to 140,000 participants by the end of this year, Weisenfeld said.

Workers are paid with a mix of food and cash for activities such as debris clearing, irrigation canal repair and drainage, he added. With an average family size of five, the income earned by each worker is predicted to help more than 700,000 Haitians increase their food supply.

Weisenfeld said that the immediate food crisis following the Jan. 12 earthquake is over, and a longer-term solution is needed to help Haiti’s hungry.

“There is food available in the market,” he said. “We want to stimulate local economy, and help Haitian farmers.”

According to USAID statistics, post-earthquake malnutrition percentages are within the same range or slightly lower than pre-earthquake levels.

The earthquake killed an estimated 300,000 people and left the capital, Port-au-Prince, in ruins.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.