PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI- As conflict rages in Haiti, the United Nations (UN) expressed concern that the French-speaking Caribbean Community (Caricom) country is “on the verge of an abyss.” International dialogue remains “the only hope” for peace in Haiti.
According to the UN in its review of 2022, “the security situation in Haiti collapsed to the point where there was virtually no safe area anywhere in Port-au-Prince, as rival gangs fought over territory, terrorizing citizens already struggling to survive a humanitarian disaster.”
According to the UN, Helen La Lime, UN Special Representative, welcomed the UN Security Council’s decision in October to impose sanctions on gang leaders and their backings. In her remarks to the Security Council, she said even if a political solution could be found, it would not be enough to resolve the crisis.
In October, the US Permanent Representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the Security Council that the US and Mexico were working on a resolution to authorize the mobilization of an international security assistance mission that would help deliver urgent humanitarian aid. La Lime said she supported the mobilization of a specialized military force.
According to Jean-Martin Bauer, the head of the World Food Programme in Haiti, the country could face famine conditions unless a robust humanitarian aid plan is put in place, due to armed groups controlling key transport routes.
There is an unprecedented crisis in Haiti, which Bauer believes could worsen. Thus, he said last month that time was of the essence.
“It’s difficult to believe that a mere two hours’ flight from Miami, a staggering 4.7 million people – half of Haiti’s population – are in the throes of a food crisis. In the Cité Soleil neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince, 19,000 people are suffering in the ‘catastrophe’ level on the global scale for measuring food insecurity.
“In the 1990s, there was a series of coups and a trade embargo; people risked their lives to leave on boats. Free market policies ruined Haiti’s smallholder farmers and left the country heavily reliant on food imports,” he added.
As a consequence, Bauer said, a series of disasters followed, including a 2010 earthquake and cholera outbreak, hurricane Matthew in 2016, and the 2021 Southern earthquake.
“Things are now at a breaking point. This crisis will not pass – it needs renewed and robust humanitarian assistance,” Bauer continued.
The UN reported that protests and widespread looting erupted in September, and that roadblocks brought the country to a halt – similar to Haiti’s “peyi lok” (lockdown).
Several armed groups had seized the main fuel import terminal, blocking diesel shipments, the economy’s lifeblood, according to the UN. Humanitarian aid was also targeted, with two WFP warehouses looted, depriving thousands of food assistance.
The UN said WFP staff had to navigate roadblocks and weather threats to reach the office, adding that “Haitians have grown accustomed to violence and hunger”.
As a result of the lockdown, the UN estimates that the WFP provided food to more than one million Haitians last year.
“But while emergency rations and airlifts will keep people alive, they won’t offer a future,” the UN warned, noting that while armed groups are no longer in control of the Varreux fuel terminal, they still hold swathes of the city.
“Their stranglehold on Haitian society must stop,” Bauer said. “The UN sanctions that were placed on those who support them are a step in the right direction, but humanitarian work in Haiti needs a change of tack”
“What Haiti is experiencing now is not merely a bout of instability that will subside as part of some regular cycle the world is inured to,” he added. “Haiti is experiencing a crisis on an unprecedented scale that can only worsen – unless we act fast and with greater urgency from us all.”