Haitians are increasingly desperate for humanitarian aid as gang violence engulfing the country has left nearly half the population regularly going hungry, a World Food Programme (WFP) report has found.
“These are the worst conditions on record,” said Jean-Martin Bauer, WFP’s Haiti director. “Food insecurity in Haiti has been going downhill and Haiti is sliding into a hunger emergency.”
Acute hunger is now affecting 4.9 million people in the country, the UN organisation estimates, and Haitians have been finding it increasingly difficult to buy enough food since the country’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated at his home in July 2021 and the island nation has sunk increasingly into violence.
As warring armed groups have seized control of much of the country, its economy has collapsed, inflation has risen to 49.3% and gang leaders have restricted access to food and water. Now, a lack of rain has also reduced crop yields. Inflation has also made food more costly and contributed to 200,000 more Haitians going hungry since the WFP published its last report in September 2022.
“It is critical that life-saving food assistance keeps reaching the most vulnerable Haitians and resilience and safety-net initiatives continue being prioritised so we can address the root causes of hunger,” said Bauer.
The country’s overlapping crises are predicted to deteriorate as violence persists. Haitian rights group RNDDH estimates gangs, not state security forces, now control all of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and more than half of the country.
Rape and sexual violence are also being used to terrorise, said Pascale Solages, co-founder of the Haitian feminist group Nègès Mawon, at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights earlier this month. Since last May, she said, her organisation has received reports of more than 650 cases of rape across just part of the capital.
Another UN report, published on Tuesday, said 531 people have been shot dead and 277 kidnapped by gangs since January. Gangs are expanding their control in the Artibonite Department, a vast central Haitian state where much of the country’s rice is grown. Turf wars in the country’s breadbasket will probably exacerbate hunger.
The UN is calling for the deployment of an international “specialised support force” to restore order to Haiti, and the US president, Joe Biden, is expected to lobby his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, to lead it while in talks in Ottawa this week.
While the number of those going hungry has increased, the WFP highlighted some positive news: the famine-like conditions it recorded for 20,000 people in the sprawling gang-run slum of Cité Soleil have been eradicated. However, the organisation warned that it is unlikely it will be able to continue delivering such gains unless it receives financial support.
The WFP has reached 850,000 Haitians this year and hopes to reach 2.5 million by the end of 2023, but the organisation is underfunded and requires $125m (£102m) over the next six months from donors.
“We are very concerned that the cost of inaction would be counted in grief for the local population. Lack of assistance right now in Haiti would only contribute to the problems that country is facing in terms of security and stability,” said Bauer.