A spike in violence has worsened hunger and poverty in Haiti while hampering aid organizations fighting these problems in a country whose government struggles to provide basic services.
Few aid workers are willing to speak publicly about the cuts – perhaps worried about drawing attention after the October kidnapping of 17 people from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries – 12 of whom remain hostages.
But several confirmed, without giving details, having sent personnel out of the country and having been forced to temporarily reduce aid operations.
Gang-related kidnappings and shootings have prevented aid groups from reaching parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and beyond where they had previously distributed food, water and equipment. ‘other commodities.
A severe fuel shortage also prevented agencies from operating at full capacity.
“It’s only getting worse in every way it can,” said Margarett Lubin, Haiti director for CORE, a US nonprofit organization.
“You see the situation deteriorating day by day, affecting life at all levels,” Lubin said, adding that aid organizations have gone into “survival mode”.
Few places in the world depend as much on aid groups as Haiti, a nation often referred to as “the republic of NGOs.” Billions of dollars in aid have flowed to hundreds – by some estimates several thousand – of aid groups even as government has become weaker and less efficient.
Shortly after the assassination of the president on July 7, Prime Minister Ariel Henry took charge of a country still struggling to regain political stability. Almost all seats in parliament are vacant and there is no specific date yet for a long-delayed election, although Henry has said he expects them early next year.
Less than ten elected representatives currently represent a country of more than 11 million inhabitants.
And in the streets, the gangs hold the power.
More than 460 kidnappings have been reported by the Haitian National Police so far this year, more than double what was reported last year, according to the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.
The agency said Haitians “live in hell under the yoke of armed gangs. Rapes, murders, thefts, armed robberies and kidnappings continue to be committed on a daily basis, on populations often left to their own devices in the disadvantaged and marginalized neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince and beyond.
The agency added: “Without being able to access these areas under gang control, we are far from knowing and measuring the extent of these abuses and what Haitians really experience on a daily basis …
“Humanitarian actors have also limited their interventions due to security risks for their staff and access problems,” he added.
Large organizations like the United Nations World Food Program have found other ways to help people, such as using barges rather than vulnerable trucks to transport goods from the capital to the southern region of Haiti. But small organizations do not always have such resources.
World Vision International, a California-based organization that helps children in Haiti, told The Associated Press it had moved at least 11 of the 320 employees due to the violence and was taking undisclosed safety measures for other members of the team. staff.
Water Mission, a South Carolina nonprofit, said it was considering moving to other parts of Haiti and said kidnappings and general violence had forced it to change its staffing plans. to ensure the safety of people.
“These issues sometimes cause a slowdown in progress in our ongoing work on the drinking water project,” the organization said. “However, we continue to work despite the temporary disruptions that occur.”
The difficulties arise at a time when calls for help multiply. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake in mid-August destroyed tens of thousands of homes and killed more than 2,200 people. The country is also struggling to cope with the recent arrival of more than 12,000 deported Haitians, the majority from the United States.
In addition, more than 20,000 people have fled their homes due to gang violence this year, according to UNICEF, many of whom are living in temporary shelters in extremely unsanitary conditions and the pandemic. The United Nations agency estimates it needs $ 97 million to help 1 million people in Haiti next year.
Among them, Martin Jean Junior, a fifty-something who sold scrap metal. He said his house was burnt down in mid-June amid fighting between police and gangs.
“I’ve been on the street ever since,” he said as he lay on a blue sheet he had spread out on the hard floor of a school in Port-au-Prince temporarily converted into a shelter.
Things could soon get worse: A prominent gang leader warned Haitians this week to avoid the besieged community of Martissant, as rival gangs will fight each other in the coming days.
“Even dogs and rats will not be saved. Anything that moves, trucks, motorcycles, people, will be considered an ally of Ti-Bois, ”the gang leader known as“ Izo ”said in a video, referring to a rival gang. “Martissant is declared a combat zone, and those who ignore this warning will pay with their lives.” “
Most are already avoiding the area for fear of being kidnapped, shot, or having their cargo looted. This largely cut off the southern peninsula from the country because the main road runs through the neighborhood.
Among those recently killed by crossfire in Martissant include a nurse, a 7-year-old girl and at least five passengers on a public bus. Violence forced aid group Médecins Sans Frontières in August to close an emergency clinic that had served the community for 15 years.
Liman Pierre, a 40-year-old mechanic, said he had recently had to drive through Martissant to get to work and saw four dead, including two elderly neighbors and the biker carrying them.
“Criminals kill with impunity and leave the dead to dogs,” he said. Those who are not devoured by dogs are set on fire, outright. It cannot be.
For the moment, Pierre is sleeping in the streets of Port-au-Prince because he fears having to cross Martissant to get home: “We don’t even have the opportunity to visit relatives and friends in difficulty.
“The state does not exist,” says Pierre. “Criminals have been in power for over six months. It is December and we do not see the light at the end of the tunnel.