People are being kidnapped and held for ransom, sometimes even after multiple payments are made. Women and girls are brutally gang raped. And now children are wasting away because they are so severely malnourished.
With armed violence in Haiti worsening daily, the United Nations’ lead child welfare agency is continuing to sound the alarm on the effects of the crisis on the country’s most vulnerable population. Not only are children increasingly becoming victims of stray bullets and having their education disrupted because schools are being turned into gang bases, but the increasing lack of food is leading to increased levels of acute malnutrition, also known as severe wasting. It is skyrocketing, UNICEF says.
“In Haiti, more and more mothers and fathers can no longer provide appropriate care and nutrition to their children, and parents cannot take them to health centers due to increasing horrific violence caused by armed groups,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s representative in Haiti. “Combined with the ongoing cholera outbreak, more children are suffering from severe wasting more rapidly, and will die if urgent measures are not taken.”
More than 115,600 children are expected to suffer from severe wasting this year, compared to 87,500 last year, according to a national nutrition survey. Currently, 1 in 5 children suffer from some form of malnutrition in metropolitan Port-au-Prince, which is plagued by violence, worsening hunger and cholera.
Nearly 1 in 4 children suffer from chronic malnutrition, which stunts growth and affects cognitive abilities. The aid agency is appealing for $17 million, it says is urgently needed to scale up early detection of child wasting and to procure an additional 84,000 cartons of therapeutic foods.
“A funding gap could put the lives of more than 100,000 children at risk of immediate death,” the U.N. agency said.
Just last month, there were more than 600 people, including children, killed across Port-au-Prince in what was described by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti as “a new wave of extreme violence.” All neighborhoods of the capital, including areas previously considered safe, as well as the Artibonite Valley region are being affected.
While neighborhood residents recently began arming themselves with machetes to fight back, gangs have started to regain the upper hand and are terrorizing the population once more.
The overall conflict is restricting children’s access to basic nutrition, health services, and safe water, hygiene and sanitation.
The lack of access to clean water fueled the resurgence of cholera last year, a deadly waterborne disease suspected in more than 41,00 cases. The first new cases were reported in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Haiti’s largest slum, Cité Soleil, where in the space of just a few days last month 49 women were raped. Nearly half of the reported cases of cholera are children under the age of 14, UNICEF said.
“As the disease rampages neighborhoods afflicted by violence, cholera and malnutrition create a double burden that the national health system is unable to respond to due to critical human resource shortages and lack of supplies,” the agency said.
Speaking to the United Nations Security Council last week, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said more action is urgently needed on Haiti.
“It is dangling over an abyss,” he said. “The state’s lack of capacity to fulfill human rights has completely eroded people’s confidence. The social contract has collapsed. The current lawlessness is a human rights emergency that calls for a robust response.”
Türk, who last visited Haiti in February, reiterated the appeal by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and his recently appointed special representative in Port-au-Prince, María Isabel Salvador, for international troops.
“There is an immediate need to support Haiti’s institutions by deploying a time-bound, specialized and human rights-compliant support force, with a comprehensive action plan,” Türk said. “The longer-term challenge is to build robust institutions that deliver on human rights.”