With millions of Haitians unable to find enough to eat and daily gang violence and kidnappings forcing people to abandon their homes and flee for their lives, the United Nations this week launched an ambitious humanitarian response plan to raise $720 million to deal with the needs of Haitians.
It’s the global organization’s largest funding appeal, the U.N. said, since Haiti’s capital and surrounding communities were decimated by a deadly earthquake in 2010 that left over 300,000 dead and 1.5 million people displaced.
The number of people who need humanitarian assistance in Haiti has doubled over the past five years to 5.2 million, with many in the population unable to find enough food to eat. The 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, which will be released in full on Wednesday, is targeted to help 60% of the population, or 3.2 million people, in need of urgent assistance.
“There is a lot of limitations on what we call a normal life here in the capital,” Ulrika Richardson, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, said from Port-au-Prince on Friday.
Richardson’s Haiti appeal during the United Nations daily briefing in New York came as the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti prepared to welcome a new head, former Ecuador Foreign Minister María Isabel Salvador. Salvador is scheduled to arrive in Port-au-Prince on Saturday and replaces former U.S. diplomat Helen Meagher La Lime as U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’ special representative in Haiti.
In addition to helping Haiti’s warring political factions find a way to come to an agreement on a governance plan for the country, which currently has no elected leaders, Salvador will face one of the worst security, economic and humanitarian crises Haiti has undergone.
The situation has deteriorated so badly, Richardson told journalists, that the number of Haitians currently in need of assistance has doubled in just the past year. Violent armed gangs, notorious for ransom kidnappings and sexual assaults, she noted, are driving both rich and poor from their homes.
“This is a humanitarian crisis. But it’s actually above all, a protection crisis,” she said.
In October, Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, appealed to the international community to help by deploying a specialized armed force to assist the Haitian National Police. At the time of his appeal, which had the support of Guterres and the U.S., armed gangs were holding the country’s main Varreux fuel terminal in Port-au-Prince hostage. The two-month siege forced the closure of hospitals, aggravated a resurgence of cholera and sent panic through the Haitian capital.
Six months later, Varreux is no longer under the control of gangs. But the security situation has gotten worse, with no takers on the request to lead a multinational force. In addition to their tightened grip on the capital, gangs are now present in the Artibonite Valley, once the breadbasket of the country, and even in the southern region where a deadly earthquake struck in August 2021.
“What we also observe with the gangs and which we’re paying particular attention to is, is the use of children as part of their operations,” Richardson added. “The use of children as well as the use of tactics like gang rape, it’s very worrying.”
Despite the challenges, Richardson said humanitarian workers are still providing assistance to the population using helicopters, barges and local leaders and organizations. She acknowledged though that on some days giving assistance is just not possible because of gang violence.
“We don’t have unhindered” access, she said. “We have access. We would like to have more.”
This story was initially printed April 14, 2023, 6:45 PM.