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Gripped by spiraling hunger and violence, Haiti needs help now

For the UN World Food Programme and other humanitarians, there were rays of hope in Haiti. Today, they are fading fast.
, Valerie Guarnieri

Below is an edited version of remarks delivered by World Food Programme Deputy Executive Director Valerie Guarnieri at a United Nations Security Council briefing on Haiti on 26 September. 

I visited Haiti several months ago. And at the time, I was struck by the rising needs—and the difficulties that our World Food Programme (WFP) team and our partners were having moving goods in and out of the capital, Port-au-Prince. We were struggling to meet the needs of the population—a population where one in every two people are food insecure.

But there were important rays of hope. School meals were one of them. We’ve been reaching more than 350,000 children—one-third of whom were fed with food grown locally by smallholder farmers. And we were scaling up further, as part of government efforts to ensure that all Haitian children benefit from nutritious meals at school. 

school children
School children in Saint Raphael receive hot meals with WFP support in 2021. Photo: WFP/Antoine Vallas

There were other encouraging signs. Tens of thousands of people are engaged in work to rehabilitate and construct rural assets that supported food production, and to clear and drain canals in urban areas that cause flooding during the cyclone season.

With support from the World Bank, WFP was helping Haiti’s government to develop a national social protection policy—and to make it responsive to shocks and include those most vulnerable. This included plans for the government to completely take over providing cash transfers by 2024, as part of this vital safety net.

Emergency food assistance was also reaching more than 450,000 people around the country, with stocks pre-positioned to support scaling-up during hurricanes and other disasters.

a mom and her child
One in two Haitians is food insecure.  Photo: WFP/Theresa Piorr

However, the situation in Haiti today has sadly reached new levels of desperation. In less than a year, the price of the basic food basket has increased by more than half. The price of petrol has doubled. Inflation stands at 31 percent—the highest it's been in recent years—and it's expected to rise further. 

Diesel needed to run power supplies, along with food and other basics, can no longer enter through the country’s port. Water supplies are running desperately low. 

The school feeding programme is on hold, because it's not safe for children to go to school. The economic and political hub of Port Au Prince is effectively cut off from the rest of the country — all due to the gangs who have a stranglehold on the main arteries in and out of the capital. 

Grim reality

This is the reality that Haitians have been living daily for months. Haiti is on the shortlist of acutely hungry countries featured in last week’s latest Hunger Hotspots report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WFP.  We expect food security to further deteriorate this year, surpassing the current record high of an estimated 4.5 million people facing crisis or emergency hunger levels.

WFP's warehouse in Port-au-Prince during the monthly inventory
A staff member at WFP's warehouse in Port-au-Prince during the monthly inventory. Photo: WFP/Theresa Piorr

Insecurity makes it very difficult and dangerous to implement humanitarian programmes, let alone development ones. Protesters have ransacked and looted humanitarian warehouses throughout the country, depleting stocks that were pre-positioned for disasters and intended for the most vulnerable people.

Indeed, in a single week WFP in Haiti lost one-third of our food stocks when two of our four warehouses were deliberately targeted and looted.  The more than 2,000 metric tons of food that was pillaged could have supported nearly one-quarter-million vulnerable people.

Other UN agencies and NGOs have also seen their offices and warehouses looted. The roughly US$6 million worth of relief supplies lost could have benefited more than 410,000 people in need. The lootings are also undermining disaster preparedness —right at the peak of the hurricane season.

Antoinette Gredeon and her daughter in Malfeti after receiving WFP in-kind assistance, her house was severely affected by the floods.
A projected active hurricane season could spell disaster for people already on the brink. Photo: WFP/Theresa Piorr

Despite these difficult conditions, WFP and other humanitarian actors intend to stay and deliver in Haiti. Over the weekend, we have already started supporting Haitians again, albeit at a limited scale, given the general lawlessness and difficult operational environment. 

More support needed

We need more support from UN member states to further facilitate humanitarian access and protect humanitarians and assets. We're doing our part — seeing, for example, better humanitarian access in Cité Soleil (a poor and restive neighbourhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince).

But we're worried this bad situation will only get worse, as food prices continue rising and food stocks run out. And we're projecting an active hurricane season, which would be nothing short of a catastrophe for this battered population.

Adeline and daughter Andercia (9 months)
Nine-month-old Andercia is being tested for malnutrition. Photo: WFP/Theresa Piorr

The worsening conditions mean the WFP-operated United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) which delivers essential goods —and also evacuates staff from tricky situations— and our ship service, put in place to circumvent gang-controlled areas — are more crucial than ever. 

These and other vital services for those we serve and security measures to protect our staff are underfunded and need urgent support. Indeed today, the Humanitarian Response Plan is only one-fifth financed— even as this latest crisis underscores the urgency of supporting Haitians with projects that strengthen their livelihoods and deliver basic services.

The magnitude of the violence, the depth of the needs, and the risk to Haiti’s population —and to those of us who are trying to support them— is severe. We cannot wait. Haiti needs help now.

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