Haiti: Violence and pandemic leave one in three children in need of humanitarian assistance

A young child at the Hospital Immaculee Conception in Les Cayes, Haiti, on 26 May 2021.
UNICEF/UN0469130/Moreno Gonzalez
A young child at the Hospital Immaculee Conception in Les Cayes, Haiti, on 26 May 2021.

PORT-AU-PRINCE/PANAMA CITY/GENEVA, 9 July 2021- Nearly one-third of all children in Haiti -at least 1.5 million- are in urgent need of emergency relief due to rising violence, constrained access to clean water, health and nutrition, disrupted education and protection services in times of COVID-19, as well as hurricanes.

UNICEF is deeply concerned that further violence and insecurity following the assassination of Haiti’s President could pose serious challenges to the humanitarian work of our teams on the ground and their ability to safely reach the most vulnerable children and families.

While UNICEF has lifesaving supplies in Haiti, prolonged violence and instability could prevent the delivery and replenishment of stockpiles of essential items for children, including vaccines, medicine and medical supplies, and treatment for those suffering from malnutrition.

“This is the worst humanitarian crisis the country has faced over the past few years, and it’s deteriorating week after week,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF representative in Haiti. “Many children’s lives depend on humanitarian aid and essential items, such as vaccines, syringes, medicines and therapeutic foods. When gangs are fighting in the street and bullets are flying, it’s hard to reach the most vulnerable families with these lifesaving supplies. Unless humanitarian organizations are granted safe passage, thousands of affected children will continue to be left with little to no assistance.”

UNICEF is alarmed by the dire humanitarian situation of children and families in Haiti, which has been rapidly deteriorating since the beginning of this year. In the first three months of 2021 alone, the number of admissions of severely acute malnourished children in health facilities across Haiti has increased by 26 per cent compared to last year.

Since early June, new clashes between rival armed gangs have erupted in some urban areas of the capital Port-au-Prince, which led to hundreds of houses being burned down or damaged. Over 15,000 women and children were forced to flee their homes due to acts of violence in and around Port-au-Prince, and 80 per cent of them in just the past four weeks.

This recent spike of violence unravels amidst a gradual rise of COVID-19 cases in Haiti. End of June, more than 18,500 COVID-19 confirmed cases and 425 deaths had been reported. The main COVID-19 dedicated hospitals are saturated and face a shortage of oxygen. Some patients are dying because armed gang violence prevents ambulances from reaching them with oxygen and emergency treatment.

“Haiti is the only country in the Western Hemisphere where not a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been received. It’s unacceptable,” said Bruno Maes. “Gang violence in and around Port-au-Prince is likely to further delay the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines and make their distribution across the country more complicated. Amidst the upsurge of coronavirus cases in Haiti, any additional day without vaccine puts hundreds of lives under threat.”

Across the country, UNICEF will support the distribution, transportation and storage of COVID-19 vaccines at the right temperature. In the past three years, UNICEF has installed over 920 solar refrigerators in Haiti to strengthen the cold chain mainly in remote areas where electricity is unreliable. In total, UNICEF has equipped 96 per cent of all Haiti’s health institutions with solar fridges.

Rising gang criminality and increased insecurity has hindered humanitarian operations in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Consequently, UNICEF has stepped up its efforts to use more sophisticated logistics and consider alternative routes to bring assistance more effectively to children in need.

UNICEF is urging an end to gang violence in Haiti and calling for safe passage to reach affected families with humanitarian assistance in the most impacted areas of Port-au-Prince.

For 2021, UNICEF is seeking US$48.9 million to meet the humanitarian needs of 1.5 million people in Haiti including over 700,000 children, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and gang violence. So far, this humanitarian appeal has remained largely underfunded, with only 31 per cent of the required funding available.

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