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Published Nov. 19, 2012

FAUCHE, Haiti - Three weeks after Hurricane Sandy, Haiti is facing its biggest blow to reconstruction since the earthquake in January 2010 and slipping deeper into crisis, U.N. and government officials say, with hundreds of thousands at risk of hunger or malnutrition.

All around this hamlet and others nearby, men and women who farmed bananas, plantains, sugar cane, beans and breadfruit stare at fields swept of trees, still flooded or coated with river muck that will probably kill whatever plants are left.

"I do not know where we will find money for food and school now," said Olibrun Hilaire, 61, surveying his wrecked plantain and sugar cane farm in Petit-Goave that supported his 10 children and grandchildren.

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said in an interview that the government would focus more on shorter-term goals like dredging river beds and repairing bridges and roads, and less on "big studies" that never seem to go anywhere.

"We have limited means and the devastation is huge," he said, looking weary after having just received pictures of fresh flooding and casualties. "We are going to use this tragedy to invest in prevention."

The government, Lamothe said, was working on plans to provide farmers with cash assistance and seeds and to use locally grown products in emergency food kits, to support farms that can still produce.

Economic distress in the countryside could undermine the government's goal of halting migration to big cities like Port-au-Prince, where overcrowding contributed to the high death toll in the earthquake.

"We are a fragile state and can only do what we have the financial means for," Lamothe said.