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Haiti poll finds majority favor international force amid worsening humanitarian crisis

Police officers patrol a neighborhood amid gang-related violence in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti on April 25, 2023. (Richard Pierrin/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)  (RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Jacqueline Charles Miami Herald

As gang violence continues to spur an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Haiti, a majority of Haitians say the situation has had negative consequences on their lives and they favor the deployment of an international armed force, a new poll shows.

The poll was commissioned by the Haiti Health Network, a group of medical organizations in the country, and its release comes as the World Food Program on Monday reported that increasing violence by armed groups since mid-August has forced about 40,000 people in the capital of Port-au-Prince to flee their homes. There are now about 200,000 displaced people across Haiti, the United Nations food agency said.

Despite the growing needs, which have led Haitians to take shelter in 90 schools, churches and abandoned buildings across the capital, the World Food Program continues to face funding cuts, said Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

“The food agency is in the process of shifting from serving hot meals to providing cash assistance to displaced people,” Dujarric said. “Funding cuts mean WFP has been unable to deliver continuous assistance to all those in need and is urgently calling for U.S. $136 million to reach the most vulnerable Haitians over the next six months.”

On Tuesday, U.N. independent expert William O’Neill said the situation remains worrying. O’Neill is in Haiti, where he has spent several days traveling around the country.

“Many have suffered — and continue to suffer — severe violence and violations of their rights. They are also victims of the catastrophic humanitarian situation, with access to health, water, food and education severely hampered,” he said during a press conference in Port-au-Prince. “This is particularly the case in underprivileged neighborhoods controlled by gangs and deserted by the state. I have received numerous reports that many children suffer from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition. Over 500,000 youths have no access to education. Many children from these neighborhoods are recruited by gangs, for lack of opportunities, or by fear of reprisals.”

The Haiti Health Network, which stressed that it’s not affiliated with any political group, said the majority of Haitians remain hostage to living conditions in which food, water, sanitation, healthcare, housing, schools, public safety and most local infrastructure is absent.

The polling was conducted by the private Haiti firm Diagnostic & Development, S.A., the first week in October. A total number of 1,597 Haitians were surveyed across Haiti’s 10 regional departments. The margin of error is below 3%.

As part of the polling, Haitians were asked how they perceive police officers’ capacity to take on armed gangs and if they are comfortable with the deployment of an international force, including soldiers, within Haiti. Respondents were also asked about the ability of Haitian government officials and other groups to resolve the country’s political crisis.

Only 29% of those surveyed thought that the Haiti National Police could restore security in Haiti, compared to 61% who said no. The large majority of those surveyed, 71%, think the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry will be unable to resolve the security crisis or thatthe problem can be solved by Haitian politicians.

The majority of respondents, 57 percent, said they do not think a coalition of civil society organizations that have come together under the name Montana Accord — an agreement for governing Haiti named after the Petionville hotel where it was signed — can solve the security crisis either.

“It is worth noting that many outside Haiti fear that an armed intervention will be viewed as supporting Prime Minister Ariel Henry. However, 91.4% of those that support intervention do not think that Ariel Henry can solve the political issues of the country,” the network said in a statement. “Clearly among Haitians on the ground, even those that do not support Henry still support armed international intervention.”

Of those surveyed, 70% said they favor the deployment of an international armed force to fight the gangs, as authorized by the United Nations.

The United Nations Security Council in October authorized a Multinational Security Support mission led by Kenya. The deployment, which is still months away, is currently held up in Kenya’s highest court, which has barred any deployment while it considers a challenge brought by a former presidential candidate.

“Cross analysis of the data shows that more than 50% of the young, old, female, male, uneducated, educated and people in every department support an armed international intervention, those directly affected by violence and kidnapping and those who have not been affected,” the network said.

This support also cuts across the political spectrum, with 73% of supporters of the Montana group and 70% of supporters of Ariel Henry approve an armed intervention. Even those who have bad memories of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti are overwhelmingly supportive, the network said.

O’Neill said during his time in Haiti he heard a strong desire for the arrival of the Multinational Security Support Mission.

“The imminent deployment of this mission, under strict conditions of respect and protection of human rights, is necessary to alleviate the suffering of the population,” said O’Neill, who reiterated his appeal to the international community to put an end to the illegal trafficking of arms and munitions ending up in Haiti. ”It is essential that this mission anticipates and takes the measure of the current challenges if it is to succeed in its long-term objective. Many of these measures will require the population to regain confidence in its institutions.”

A majority of Haitians polled by the health network, 84%, said the situation worsened since the departure of the U.N. peacekeeping force that was in Haiti from 2004 to 2017, and 78% said they felt safer when it was present.

As for Haiti’s ongoing political crisis, the majority of Haitians do not think either Henry nor the Montana Group can resolve it.

“Given the current political impasse, the Haitian population expressed a desire for new political options. Fourteen percent believe the Montana Group can solve the political crisis and only 10% believe Prime Minister Ariel Henry can achieve such resolution,” the poll found.

The firm Diagnostic & Development has also done polling on the security situation in Haiti for the Alliance for Management of Risks and Business Continuity, known by its French acronym AGERCA.

The findings in the October survey were consistent with AGERCA’s polling in August about the security situation and public perceptions. In that poll, AGERCA said 56% of the respondents did not believe the Haitian police had the capacity to take down armed gangs on its own. Asked about the deployment of an international force, 63% of respondents were in favor, and 94% of those polled thought the force should be deployed “immediately.”