"It was great to be back to see friends and be part of Haitian culture again," says Vander Zaag, who lived in Haiti from 1985-93 while serving with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, and again in 1997 while doing doctoral research.
Vander Zaag, who teaches International Development Studies at CMU, was back in Haiti as part of an international fact-finding mission on the right to food.
The trip was sponsored by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development
, an organization created by the government of Canada to encourage and support the universal values of human rights and the promotion of democratic institutions and practices around the world.
While in Haiti, the mission found that hunger and malnutrition is pervasive, and that lack of access to food risks escalating into a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
Since the right to food is enshrined in Haiti's constitution, it called on the Haitian government to take immediate steps to resolve the problem.
For Vander Zaag
, who researches and writes about Haiti, that Caribbean country puts "almost all the various theories and issues in international development studies to the test.
There are many competing explanations to explain the causes of the food crisis."
One theory holds that the crisis is the result of how foreign governments have encouraged Haiti to open its markets to cheaper imported food.
"The government was induced to reduce tariffs on imports and allow the entry of cheap food from other countries," Vander Zaag
says, noting that about 60 percent of food consumed in that country is imported.
"As prices on imported food have risen, it is harder for poor people to buy staple goods."
Another theory emphasizes the weak capacity and will of successive Haitian governments to deliver effective services to the poor, he
adds, noting that this has resulted in many aid groups sending help to Haiti.
"Because of the ongoing political and economic crises in Haiti, both Western aid donors and private charities, including many church aid agencies, have responded with short-term food aid programs," he
says, noting that the U.S. government has also supported large food distribution programs and that many mission agencies are supporting feeding programs in local church-run schools.
Since the recent food riots in April, this trend has only increased, he
says, with numerous churches in North America have responded by filling up containers of food to ship to Haiti.
The problem with this approach, he
notes, is that while it helps people in the short-term, "it is a short-sighted approach to the problem.
doesn't want to discourage North Americans from wanting to help people in Haiti.
"But we need to do it in a way that doesn't cause more problems for them in the long-term,"" he