Haiti gang wars block aid routes for most vulnerable, U.N. agency says

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 12:48 PM

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) – A recent spike of violence in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is preventing the World Food Programme (WFP) from reaching hundreds of thousands of people in urgent need of supplies, as conflicts between armed gangs worsen an escalating humanitarian crisis.

The United Nations’ food agency on Thursday said the latest violence, which broke out in early February and has forced nearly 10,000 people to flee their homes in just 10 days, has prevented the agency from reaching over 370,000 people in the most urgent need of food.

“The recent upsurge in violence has blocked cargo routes, restricted movement and closed schools, forcing WFP to temporarily halt many activities across the country,” country director Jean-Martin Bauer said in a statement.

The WFP said school closures have prevented the group from helping to provide hot meals to some 300,000 children, while violence in the hard-hit Cite Soleil neighborhood was stopping it from reaching kitchens for displaced people there.

In recent weeks the agency said it has been unable to reach 56,000 people in Cite Soleil, including people on the brink of slipping back into the WFP’s worst category of food insecurity, marked by famine-like conditions.

“Interruptions in aid could push them back into what is officially known as ‘catastrophe’ levels of food insecurity,” WFP’s Haiti communications director Tanya Birkbeck said.

Birkbeck said the stocks of dry goods, such as rice and beans, are safe in WFP warehouses and the agency will keep trying to deliver them.

The U.N. estimates some 44% of Haitians are facing acute food insecurity, and that as of January, children accounted for over half of some 314,000 forced to flee their homes due to the conflict.

Last year, the U.N. ratified sending an international force to help police fight gangs and secure routes for humanitarian aid. No date has been set for its deployment, nor has the U.N. announced which countries are volunteering contributions.

The violence has forced other aid groups including Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) to suspend clinics and close hospitals, while poorly funded campaigns forced the WFP to slash funding last year.

(Reporting by Harold Isaac and Sarah Morland; Editing by Leslie Adler)