Haiti is experiencing the worst level of hunger in its history, with 4.7 million people suffering from acute hunger, the World Food Programme recently warned. In Haiti half its children rely on humanitarian aid to survive, Unicef says.
At least 2.6 million are expected to need immediate lifesaving assistance this year as the overlapping crises leave Haiti’s children in the worst position since the earthquake of 2010, Unicef’s Haiti representative, Bruno Maes, told the Guardian.
“Haitian children don’t just face challenges accessing food and potable water while the health system collapses around them,” Maes said. “There is also a lack of protection. Children are being abused, young girls are being raped and services are not there at the scale they should be for their survival and development.”
“Humanitarian assistance to children and their families, one of the few remaining lifelines for children in Haiti, is a buffer that prevents the country from spiralling into a cycle of social unrest, insecurity, instability and more poverty,” said Garry Conille, Unicef director for the region.
Anarchy reached new heights in late January when police – the last line of defence against the gangs – staged a revolt. Angry officers terrorised Port-au-Prince, firing guns into the air, creating roadblocks of burning tyres and trapping the prime minister in the airport. Gangs have seized control of two-thirds of the capital, bringing human rights abuses, unprecedented malnutrition and the return of cholera. To support health centres, Unicef has to negotiate access with gangs, who are now the de-facto authorities in many areas.
Maes said: “All the children suffered from the presence of the armed group there, which shows how much violence and insecurity is spreading around the city. In the south, the north, the mountains and suburban areas – in fact, it’s everywhere, and kids are paying a heavy price.”
Médecins Sans Frontières suspended all its operations at a public hospital in west Port-au-Prince on 26 January after three masked men burst into an emergency room, dragged a patient outside and shot him dead. It was the second such incident in six months that forced MSF to close to protect staff.
The humanitarian crisis is expected to intensify this year, with no obvious political solution in sight.