The island of Haiti, long established as among the poorest nations on the globe and the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, is now at breaking point.
Haiti is facing a humanitarian catastrophe as it struggles with malnutrition, gang violence, inflation and a cholera outbreak, the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.
Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in his home by armed men in July 2021, questions have lingered over who is running the country. As leaders have come and gone–first acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, then Ariel Henry– it’s been almost a reign of anarchy in the beleaguered island.
Some 4.7 million people, almost half the population of Haiti, are facing hunger, with about 19,000 people in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Cite Soleil facing “catastrophic hunger,” the WFP said.
There are around 200 gangs across Haiti, 95 of which operate in metropolitan Port-au-Prince alone. The gangs have historically established strongholds in the capital’s overcrowded slums. These neighborhoods are of great political value because of their large populations and remain easy to defend from state security forces due to their lack of urban planning: their narrow, unpaved roads are difficult for vehicles to navigate. The gangs often use civilians as human shields when the security forces do attempt to enter. Beyond the capital and its vicinity, gangs have also established footholds in cities such as Cap Haïtien, Gonaïves, Les Cayes, Jérémie and Jacmel – all densely populated ports connected to main roads.
Gangs are virtually invulnerable to police control, they have been known to decapitate opponents in the street, in daylight. The situation has deteriorated steadily since the assassination of Moïse and this has greatly affected the distribution of support and aid that is destined for the island. Turf wars between police and gangs in the capital, Port-au-Prince, routinely delay aid shipments. While some relief groups have turned to partner organizations or air transport for deliveries, others have suspended operations, citing the violence and kidnappings.
“We regret that we are in no position to answer the needs of the people in the metropolitan area (of Port-au-Prince),” said Annalisa Lombardo, country director of German NGO Welthungerhilfe, which runs several aid programs and provides food to 60,000 people. “The safety risk is getting shot.”