Haiti Enters State of Chaos Amid Gang-Related Violence, Kidnappings, UNICEF Says
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - Haiti is currently in a state of chaos as a result of the level of gang-related violence and numerous kidnappings, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Chief of Communications in Haiti, Ndiaga Seck, told Sputnik.
Haiti suffered a devastating earthquake in August in which more than 2,000 people died. The humanitarian crisis with respect to the earthquake compounded the existing burden of poverty, rampant gang violence and a political crisis following the assassination of previous President Jovenel Moise in July.
When asked about the current humanitarian situation in the country following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, Seck said, "Actually, in Haiti now, the humanitarian situation is chaos."
Seck said even before Moise’s assassination, UNICEF knew at the beginning of the year that gang-related violence started growing in Haiti - especially in and around the capital Port-au-Prince - and 19,000 people have fled their homes as a result.
"Among them, we have 15,000 women and children," Seck said. "Apart from that, now we come into some sort of chaos again when it comes to kidnappings, because UNICEF has identified at least 100 women and children who have been kidnapped from January to August alone."
Seck noted that the number of kidnapped women and children this year has surpassed the number of people who have been kidnapped in 2020.
"We are in a situation where… about 800 people have been kidnapped. Some nongovernmental organizations have the [exact] figure," he said. "You can be kidnapped on your way to school, on your way to the hospital, in church, at home, etc. It's a very bad situation."
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Seck also said that the humanitarian situation has been further exacerbated by the recent earthquake that killed some 2,700 people and injured about 12,200, causing widespread material damage, including 130,000 homes being destroyed or damaged as well as more than 1,000 schools and 90 health facilities.
"We are trying our best to first have some temporary learning spaces set up for children to go back to school normally," he said. "We are also supporting the government in terms of supplies, emergency supplies to get those health facilities running again."
In addition, Seck said efforts by groups providing humanitarian assistance amid the crisis in Haiti have further been challenged by the current fuel shortages.
Haiti Remains at Standstill Over Insecurity
Haiti has recently seen mass strikes in protest against violence, which has been on the rise since the assassination of Moise. The strikes were prompted by the kidnapping of missionaries in mid-October and the assassination of a pastor in the center of the capital.
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the kidnapping of missionaries - 16 Americans and one Canadian - was indicative of a larger problem, calling the current security situation in Haiti unsustainable, as gangs dominate large parts of the country and national police at a loss to stop them.
Seck said the underlying reason for the current economic and social shutdown in Haiti is a deep insecurity crisis, with protests being just a manifestation of it.
"The protest is a given because those people deem [it] necessary to protest to get security back," Seck said.
And although the general protest brought the country to a standstill and has been a hindrance, Seck added, the insecurity does not allow them to work anyway.
"Even without the protest activities these past days, what we wanted to do as humanitarian operations, we couldn't do them because of the insecurity prevailing," Seck said.
Haiti in Distress Amid Fuel Shortages Prompted by Lack of Security
Seck described the present conditions in Haiti as being in distress as a result of fuel shortages caused by insecurity in the country that particularly endangers the lives of women and children.
"Fuel shortages have impacted almost every aspect of life in Haiti, be it business or institution or whatever. The fuel shortages are really a problem… It's a situation in which we are really in distress," Seck said.
Seck said there is fuel in the terminals in Haiti but it does not get to be delivered where it is most needed such as in medical institutions.
"We're waiting for this situation to get better and then get the fuel to the hospitals. In the meantime, we fear for the lives of women and children," he said.
The drivers, Seck added, are not ready to take the fuel to hospitals given the lack of security and at least 300 children and 45 women, as well as 150 COVID-19 patients, are at risk of dying if the solutions are not found quickly.
Seck noted that UNICEF has made a contract with a local provider to bring 10,000 gallons of fuel to four major hospitals in Port-au-Prince. The provider said he could not do so in the rest of the country, but later said he cannot even try Port-au-Prince anymore, Seck added.
"So, this fuel is with the local provider. We paid for it. We know that he can't be delivering it because of the insecurity, so [the fuel] is sitting right there," he said.
Seck said resolving the situation does not necessarily depend on UNICEF given that it is a humanitarian organization, but the organization is trying its best to seek the government and other influencers to help solve the security problem.
"It's not only impacting, as I said, hospitals, it's also impacting the lives of people. Even if today you had your car, you can't buy fuel to go anywhere," he said. "People, because of insecurity, cannot even let their children go to school. So it's really a big problem."
Seck said when UNICEF tried to deliver emergency aid in the southwest of Haiti after the recent devastating earthquake, some truck drivers were unable to go through certain places and would return fully loaded.
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"We pay more money to get emergency supplies to the south. And we also lose a lot of time," he said. "The delivery time has lengthened and is happening when people who were injured in the earthquake are waiting for medical care, people who lost their homes wait for support like shelter or hygiene kits or school material, etc. And all of that can’t be brought there because of the prevailing insecurity."
Seck said they are working with the Minister of Health but what they really need is "security to get back to normal."
"Maybe there is a possibility for the government to help. There is a possibility for the gangs to understand that this is a serious issue and open humanitarian access," Seck said. "But all UNICEF is saying is we need open access without restrictions to basic social services. Everybody should get access to those services without any kind of bottlenecks."