Children lose access to water, medicine amidst civil unrest in Haiti

Weeks of demonstrations shut down access to essential goods and services.

By Ndiaga Seck
A child washes his hands, Haiti
UNICEF Haiti/2019/Roger Lemoyne
01 March 2019

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – When fighting and demonstrations erupted between protesters and national police in Haiti three weeks ago, the country went into a general shutdown. Haitians took to the streets to protest ongoing economic difficulties, unpaid salaries for civil servants, food and fuel price hikes and the devaluation of the local currency (HTG), which has lost 25 per cent of its value in the last year. The demonstrations shuttered businesses and partially or totally shut down access to essential goods and services such as fuel, electricity, water, domestic gas and food.

Children were particularly vulnerable to the effects of the political and economic crisis. 

Vulnerable children hit hardest

Among the children most affected by the crisis are those living in institutions like child homes and juvenile detention centres. In Haiti, there are around 750 children’s homes for an estimated 25,000 affected children. When the demonstrations sparked, many of these institutions lost access to water, forcing children to ration their showers and drinking water. Some had no choice but to drink non-potable water.

A shortage of fuel in the country compounded the water supply problem. The national agency for drinking water and sanitation (DINEPA) was unable to refuel many of its water pumping stations, which limited water supply to several hospitals, children’s homes and detention centres. Fuel and supply delivery difficulties were reported in vaccination centres which raised concerns of new cholera outbreaks.

Food and medicine were also increasingly difficult to come by. Propane gas shortages meant some health centres and remote vaccination posts couldn’t stock vaccines and other perishable medicines. Health workers weren’t reporting to work at maternity clinics, creating deficiencies in neonatal care. And due to their dependence on food purchases, urban populations were the most affected by the purchasing power crisis.

UNICEF supports local partners

UNICEF worked with DINEPA and the NGO Solidarités International to bring safe drinking water to over 576 children and women in the capital. Some 15 water trucks carrying at least 45,000 gallons of water were delivered to several child residential centres, one detention centre and one prison. In addition, UNICEF provided 4,200 water purification tablets to children’s homes.

UNICEF supported the national agency with 18,000 gallons of fuel allowing 18 water pumping stations to operate again and serve several neighbourhoods in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and other provinces. The fuel helped produce 300,000 cubic meters of water for 900,000 people across the country the country.

Gradually, UNICEF and partners have supplied the North-East and North-West departments with propane gas, and are working on a response plan to cover all areas. This supply will ensure that health centres are equipped to stock and distribute vaccines and other medicines, including the 587,900 single-dose pneumococcal conjugate vaccine supplied by UNICEF.

Though the protests have come to an end, UNICEF in Haiti continues to support emergency response operations, as well as its regular work on child nutrition, health, education, protection, WASH, and the fight against cholera.



*During the crisis, UNICEF brought emergency support to institutions like juvenile detention centres, prisons with minors or children’s residential institutions. However, it continues to promote family reunification, de-institutionalization and non-detention of children while supporting the Government to expand the foster care system across the country.