Haitian Security, Health, and Safety Situation Grows Increasingly Dire
The safety and security situation in Haiti continues to deteriorate, and officials have resorted to asking outside countries for security assistance and equipment.
Gang violence in Haiti has escalated in the past month. After the government announced a plan to cut fuel subsidies—causing prices to double—a coalition of gangs blockaded a major fuel terminal, preventing the distribution of diesel and gasoline, Reuters reported. Looting and gang shootouts are becoming more common, and many transportation methods have been stalled.
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An alliance of multiple gangs is making demands of the Haitian government, pushing to be granted more legitimate power—if not amnesty—in the country, ABC News reported. The group of gangs is also demanding positions in the prime minister’s cabinet.
The fuel terminal blockade is exacerbating food insecurity in Haiti—currently 4.7 million Haitians are facing acute hunger, and 19,000 are in catastrophic famine conditions in a slum controlled by gangs in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, a United Nations (UN) World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization report said. Approximately 60 percent of Port-au-Prince is reportedly under the control or influence of gangs.
Unrelenting crises have trapped Haitians “in a cycle of growing desperation, without access to food, fuel, markets, jobs, and public services, bringing the country to a standstill,” the report said. The UN groups noted that 65 percent of Haitians face high levels of food insecurity, and 5 percent are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
The rising prices of food and fuel are putting many Haitians at high risk of starvation and disease, and recent natural disasters—including below-average rainfall and an earthquake—worsened conditions for people.
Women and children are particularly at risk. Up to 100,000 children under the age of five are severely malnourished and especially vulnerable to cholera, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, due to the fuel shortage and rising prices, gas stations are closing, hospitals are cutting back on services, and banks and grocery stores are only opening on a limited basis. The UN Population Fund said on 14 October that 30,000 pregnant women in Haiti are at risk because approximately three-fourths of Haiti’s hospitals are unable to provide services.
Furthermore, children as young as 10 and elderly women have been subjected to sexual violence by the gangs in Haiti, “including collective rapes for hours in front of their parents or children by more than half a dozen armed elements,” according to a report from the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Gangs use sexual violence to instill fear, and alarmingly the number of cases increases by the day as the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Haiti deepens,” Nada Al-Nashif, the acting human rights chief, said in a statement. “The gruesome testimonies shared by victims underscore the imperative for urgent action to stop this depraved behavior, ensure that those responsible are held to account, and the victims are provided support.”
The UN noted that unless the issue is quickly addressed, “such rampant use of sexual violence risks further shattering the already deeply fragile social fabric of Haitian society for years to come and may undermine prospects of sustainable development and lasting stability.”
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In addition, The Washington Post reported, violence, unrest, and tensions in the worst-hit regions of Haiti have limited access for humanitarian workers. Aid organizations’ warehouses have been looted, reducing the amount of food and drinking water available to vulnerable populations.
And aid workers face significant security risks of their own. In 2021, 17 North American missionaries were kidnapped in Haiti and held for ransom for two months. Afterward, missionaries and aid groups have become hypersensitive to the risks of operating in Haiti, the Associated Press reported.
In response to the growing violence and risk, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has asked for foreign military aid, and the UN called for the immediate deployment of a special international armed force to Haiti.
The UN Security Council is also considering creating a sanctions regime to freeze assets and ban travel for anyone who threatens the peace, security, or stability of Haiti. The U.S. State Department announced a new visa restriction policy that affects individuals—and potentially those individuals’ immediate family members—who are involved in the operation of street gangs and other Haitian criminal organizations.
On 15 October, U.S. and Canadian military aircraft delivered tactical and armored vehicles and other supplies to the Haitian National Police (HNP) to help address gang activity in the country, Reuters reported. In a joint statement, the U.S. and Canadian governments said that “this equipment will assist the HNP in their fight against criminal actors who are fomenting violence and disrupting the flow of critically needed humanitarian assistance, hindering efforts to halt the spread of cholera.”
Cholera—a waterborne bacterial infection—has caused at least 35 official deaths with more than 600 suspected or confirmed cases around Port-au-Prince, but the true numbers are likely higher, CBC News reported. Cholera appears to be spreading in Haiti’s overcrowded prison system, which operates with a limited medical staff and unsanitary sewage management.
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While the spread of the disease beyond Haiti’s borders is unlikely, if case numbers explode while the country is in the current period of gang violence, blocked aid, broken infrastructure, and a lack of proper medical care, it could result in a high number of deaths, according to infectious diseases specialist Dr. Srinivas Murthy, a clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia, who spoke to CBC News.
Haiti has a painful history with cholera. Its last outbreak was in 2010 after a catastrophic earthquake, and it was the worst in recent global history, leading to roughly 10,000 deaths and 820,000 cases.
Prime Minister Henry was appointed to his position to lead the country after former President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July 2021. Henry came to power with a pledge to hold elections and curb gang violence, according to Foreign Policy. Henry is a key suspect in the assassination of Moïse, but fired government officials who sought him for questioning in the case.