UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's remarks at the ECOSOC Special Session on Haiti - “Saving Lives: Addressing the urgent food security needs of Haiti”

As prepared for delivery

16 June 2023

NEW YORK, 16 June 2023 – "Ambassador Stoeva, Ambassador Rae, excellencies, thank you for convening this special session today and also for inviting me to brief on the plight of children in Haiti.

"Haiti is on the precipice of catastrophe. Half the population needs humanitarian assistance, including nearly 3 million children. But half of those in need of assistance aren’t getting it – in large part because of insecurity and insufficient humanitarian funding.

"Two million people, including 1.6 million children and women, live in areas controlled by armed groups – their lives under constant threat from violence. Children are even being killed on their way to school. Women and girls are being subjected to staggering levels of gender-based and sexual violence. Insecurity is also compromising the operations of humanitarian actors to meet the growing gap in the delivery of essential services.

"This life-threatening mix of conditions has caused an intensifying food security and nutrition crisis – especially for children. Since last year, we have seen an unprecedented 30 per cent increase in the number of children suffering from severe wasting to more than 115,000 across the country. Nearly a quarter of Haiti’s children are chronically malnourished, which can have devastating consequences for their physical and cognitive development.  

"The malnutrition crisis coincides with an ongoing cholera outbreak – in which nearly half of the more than 46,000 suspected cases are children under 14. And severely malnourished children are five times more likely to die from cholera without urgent treatment.

"Yet the national health system is on the verge of collapse and does not have the capacity to adequately respond to the health and nutrition needs of vulnerable children and families.

"UNICEF has been working for children in Haiti for decades, and we remain fully committed to provide them with the support they need amidst the deepening crisis. Alongside our partners, we are engaging with community leaders and other relevant stakeholders to facilitate the safe movement of humanitarian workers and supplies, and to identify secure spaces where humanitarian assistance can be delivered.

"We are also expanding our response in health, nutrition, protection, education, water, sanitation and hygiene. So far this year, we have screened more than 243,000 children under five for wasting, helped nearly 70,000 women and children access health-care, provided more over 417,000 people with safe water, and reached 30,000 children with learning materials.

"We are also delivering essential health supplies to protect families from cholera, including vaccines and cholera prevention kits.

"But with humanitarian needs in Haiti even greater than after the 2010 earthquake, far more must be done to ensure that people have safe and sustainable access to essential services in their communities. This requires timely, flexible funding to support the UN’s Humanitarian Response Plan. The Plan is based on a $719.9 million appeal that is less than 23 per cent funded. 

"Decades of successive crises, including earthquakes, hurricanes, public health emergencies and political turmoil, have plagued Haiti. But for the sake of the millions of Haitians whose lives and wellbeing are at stake, we must respond not with fatigue or resignation, but with renewed commitment.

"We should start by shifting our perspective, and move away from treating Haiti’s crises as separate events. Instead, we should view the situation as a longer-term development crisis exacerbated by recurring acute emergency phases. The years-long decline in access to basic services and livelihood opportunities, as well as poor governance and social exclusion, have created extreme vulnerabilities for millions of people. Any shock – like an earthquake, hurricane or public health emergency – pushes them over the edge.

"We know from our long engagement in Haiti that lifesaving humanitarian assistance must go hand-in-hand with development solutions that build resilience of Haitian communities and social service systems.

"We must also deepen our engagement with local stakeholders, to strengthen the capacity of Haitian organizations and institutions, and to facilitate a more efficient response that reflects the local context and experience of the Haitian people.

"In the coming days, I will be travelling with Cindy McCain to Haiti to meet with key stakeholders, assess our collective response on the ground, and reiterate UNICEF’s commitment to helping the Haitian people.

"The time for action is long overdue. The Haitian people need an immediate scale up in both regional and international support – which includes full funding for the Humanitarian Response Plan. The upcoming summit hosted by the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States is one of several upcoming opportunities for the international community to rally around Haiti with investments and action. Let’s work together to make sure this happens. Together we can join with the Haitian people to break through the cycle of crises and begin building towards a more peaceful and hopeful future for Haiti and most importantly for its children."

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