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Haiti on the brink of collapse, NGOs warn as UN talks on restoring order continue | Haiti

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NGOs operating in Haiti warn that as the UN security council debates on how to restore order, the chaos engulfing the country is so integrated and the social fabric is so fragmented that the country is on the verge of collapse.

Haitians now face a series of overlapping crises that are becoming more deadly by the day as heavily armed gangs continue to blockade the country’s main port and fuel terminal.

The country is also experiencing the worst hunger in its history as a deadly cholera epidemic and armed gangs increasingly target women and children with sexual violence as a form of warfare.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in the 20 years we’ve worked in Haiti,” said Fiammetta Cappellini, country representative of the Avsi Foundation. “Violence is everywhere and it touches everyone. The most vulnerable people are literally struggling to survive, as humanitarian aid is out of reach.”

On Monday, the United States and Mexico called for the creation of a non-UN multinational force to overthrow the gangs that now dominate much of Port-au-Prince.

Violence escalated after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, when gangs—many of whom had ties to established politicians—exploited a power vacuum to seize more ground.

The factions that dominate most of Port-au-Prince are using more brutal tactics than ever to intimidate the public, the UN human rights office said on Friday.

In its new report, the UN concluded that gang rape of older women and girls under the age of 10 has become a tool “to instill fear, punish, subjugate and torment the local population”.

Among the dozens of “horrible testimonies” collected by the UN, there were cases of children being raped for hours in front of their parents, and in some cases by more than half a dozen armed men.

“The number of cases is increasing alarmingly as the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Haiti deepens,” said Nada Al-Nashif, acting chief of human rights.

The UN said sexual violence against abducted victims was also used. The organization has documented cases of gang raping women and girls repeatedly over days or weeks while in captivity. In some cases, gangs send video footage of the attacks to pressure victims’ families to pay for their release.

The UN said it would make any chance of reconciliation and peacebuilding in the country more challenging if sexual violence is not stopped immediately.

“Such widespread use of sexual violence risks further fragmenting the already highly fragile social fabric of Haitian society in the coming years and could undermine prospects for sustainable development and lasting stability,” the report said.

The World Food Program (WFP) warned on Friday that already dire levels of hunger are reaching unprecedented, “catastrophic” levels.

A record 4.7 million people are facing acute hunger, and 1.8 million are currently at an emergency level of malnutrition.

For the first time, thousands of Haitians are starving at level 5 – WFP’s highest alert level and one often reserved for wartime famine.

Malnutrition has long been common in the slums of Port-au-Prince, but the country’s paralysis by gangs has caused hunger to reach life-or-death levels.

Due to severe oil shortages, many residents are unable to work and food prices are soaring, according to WFP, causing 65% of Cite Soleil residents to go hungry on a regular basis and 5% to require urgent humanitarian assistance.

As the cabinets emptied and the taps dried, the cholera disease returned to Haiti in grim timing.

The bacterial disease can be deadly – ​​especially for those who are malnourished – and likely spreads easily in the slums of Port-au-Prince, medical NGOs say, because there is little running water for sanitation.

Port-au-Prince’s national prison has become the epicenter of the epidemic, with 14 deaths recorded in the overcrowded prison.

Haitian health authorities have recorded 425 suspected cases and 22 deaths as of October 14.

Haiti’s last cholera epidemic began in 2010 and has killed 10,000 over the past nine years to eradicate.

NGOs fear that history will repeat itself unless an immediate solution is found to quell the violence and end food and water shortages.

“The people of Haiti can’t wait any longer,” said Judes Jonathas, who runs the NGO Mercy Corps’ Haiti program. “We cannot descend any further into this abyss. The urgency now is to save what can be saved.”

As the number of victims of disease, malnutrition and gunshot wounds grows, access to healthcare is shrinking as many hospitals remain closed due to national fuel shortages.

“The population is in an unprecedented and dramatic state. “Now it’s really a matter of life and death on a daily basis,” said Capellini.

Jonathas said the “progressive destruction” of Haiti and its institutions will make it a long and difficult program to stabilize and then rebuild it from a failed state to a functioning democracy.

“There is no clear policy and governance at all levels, while all the structures needed to respond to the country’s problems have been weakened,” he said.

He added that for any international solution to be permanent, it must include Haitians. UN missions in Haiti have suppressed violence in the past, but quickly bounced back once they left.

“Solutions must be local among Haitians, but of course with the involvement of our international partners. If we talk about solutions and forget about key Haitian actors once again, coming back with the same problems a few years later will be a short-term solution.”

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