Armed violence takes root in Haiti’s “rice basket”
Children face triple threat of insecurity, malnutrition and disease
PORT-AU-PRINCE, NEW YORK, 3 October 2023 – The unchecked violence seen in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, is now similarly intensifying in Artibonite, the nation’s main rice-growing region, terrorizing children and families and destroying livelihoods amid unprecedented hunger, malnutrition and a resurgent cholera epidemic.
The latest available figures show that between May and June 2023, at least 60 people were killed or injured amid clashes for territory and resources between armed groups, compared with four during the same period last year. Nearly half of the 298 kidnappings countrywide during that period took place in Bas Artibonite, or the lower part of Artibonite, mostly involving civilians traveling on public transport. In one incident, 15 women heading to market were reportedly kidnapped and raped.
Over 100 schools have shut down due to insecurity and only one in four health facilities across the department remain accessible due to security-related challenges. Roughly a third of the population, nearly half of them children, now require humanitarian assistance.
Brutal violence, mirroring that seen in Port-au-Prince, has forcibly displaced families and disrupted rice and agricultural production, a lifeline for the economy. Over 22,000 people were displaced as of June, up from less than 10,000 in April. Most have sought refuge among host communities, while hundreds shelter in precarious makeshift spaces with little access to basic services or protection from the armed groups.
“No human being, and certainly no child, should ever have to face such shocking brutality, deprivation and lawlessness. The current situation is simply untenable,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “The humanitarian system, including UNICEF, is delivering and scaling up the response, but we need support from the international community in order to reach Haitian children and families who desperately need help right now,” said Russell, who is also the designated Principal Advocate for Haiti for the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, a group of humanitarians.
This week the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on creating a one-year, multinational security support mission to help address the insecurity among civilians in Haiti. This needs to be accompanied by measures to safeguard humanitarian space and protect people at risk.
Haiti was among the top five countries globally in terms of recorded cholera cases between 20 July and 31 August, and Artibonite has been worst affected overall. Humanitarian workers say the insecurity has made it extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible, to access six of the department’s 17 communes, including Saint Marc, Verrettes and Petite Rivière — hotspots of cholera where some families are virtually besieged by the violence. Two of the three major water treatment plants in Artibonite have shut down due to insecurity, and the third faces distribution challenges.
The combination of escalating insecurity, restricted access to essential health, water and sanitation services, and cholera pose particularly lethal threats to malnourished children. At least 115,000 children in Haiti are expected to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition this year, an increase of 30 per cent over 2022. In Artibonite, the number of children who are estimated to need lifesaving treatment more than doubled since 2020.
The spread of violence from Port-au-Prince to Artibonite is exacerbating an already critical humanitarian emergency. Over 5 million people, including a record 3 million children – need humanitarian support in 2023. Nearly five million people are acutely hungry. Haiti was already the Western Hemisphere’s poorest and least developed country well before the current crisis.
Together with partners, UNICEF has reached over 150,000 people in Artibonite including through a cholera vaccination campaign and 350,000 people with safe drinking water, chlorine tablets, and hygiene kits and rehabilitated damaged water sources. Over 32,100 children have been screened for malnutrition this year, including more than 3,400 who were provided with life-saving ready-to-use therapeutic food, which UNICEF procures for the entire country. Dozens of health workers have been deployed to support the struggling health system; 100 health facilities provided with cold chain equipment and 40 maternal units with solar kits. Schools and students in areas affected with violence have received over 13,600 kits; and hundreds of most vulnerable families are receiving cash assistance to help with schooling.
Funding remains a critical constraint. The $720 UN Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023 is just over a quarter funded and UNICEF has received just 20 per cent of its 2023 $246 million funding appeal.