The Haiti crisis: 5 things to know

January 9, 2020
Photo by Kieran McConville

Haiti was in a state of lockdown for much of the second half of 2019 with a fuel crisis sparking a larger humanitarian threat. All of this had the greatest effect on the country’s 11 million citizens, still recovering from two major hurricanes and an earthquake over the last 10 years. Here are 5 things to know about a crisis that has gone largely ignored.

Haiti was in a state of lockdown for much of the second half of 2019 with a fuel crisis sparking a larger humanitarian threat amid protests, violence, hunger, and a lack of access for humanitarian organizations. At the end of the day, the impacts of these activities are greatest on the vast majority of Haiti’s 11 million citizens, most of whom are struggling to survive from one day to the next. 

Haiti’s crisis can be linked to a number of contributing factors, including the ongoing effects of Hurricanes Tomas and Matthew, the 2010 earthquake, and a severe drought that has further compromised the island nation’s water resources. But beyond the causes, there’s a lot to unpack in a situation that has gone largely ignored over the last few months. Here are 5 things to know about the Haiti crisis. 

1. Humanitarian response is at constant risk of lockdown — with millions of lives hanging in the balance

Insecurity is commonplace in the world’s most vulnerable countries and communities, so from time to time the occasional lockdown is inevitable. In some conflict zones, ceasing activities can be a near-daily reality. This is the unfortunate reality in Haiti at the moment, where violence and the threat thereof are threatening lockdowns on a regular basis, interrupting the work of Concern and other humanitarian organizations — work that reaches civilians who need protection and basic necessities, and who deserve a fair chance at a better future. 

Youth in Cité Soleil area of Port au Prince, Haiti

Ti Ayiti in the Cité Soleil area of Port au Prince is one of the most disadvantaged communities in the city, with houses subject to regular flooding and families experiencing anitsocial activities. Photo: Kieran McConville/ Concern Worldwide

While Haiti has experienced lockdowns in the past, those that have occurred since the end of August 2019 are of a higher degree, lasting for months on end. This unpredictable future (and present) has pushed Haitians to the limit of their coping abilities. And, while they go to bed each day unsure of what the next day will bring, what it does bring is often only more violence and deprivation. 

2. Two major challenges: Access and funding 

Two of the reasons that these lockdowns are so challenging for humanitarian organizations stem from access and funding. Roadblocks have been set up by civilians out of protest against the government, however this also prevents humanitarian organizers from traveling to the areas where they’re needed most. 

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also notes that funding remains an issue in Haiti (as it does in many crises). Most recent estimates show that humanitarian response plans are only 29% funded so far. 

An October 2019 report estimates that 35% of Haiti’s population are hungry. That number could rise to 40% by March 2020.

3. By March 2020, nearly half the population could be hungry 

Currently, 3.7 million people are going hungry due to Haiti’s crisis, including 1 million people who are at an emergency level of hunger. These current figures represent 35% of the population. As of October 2019, the UN estimated that 19,000 children were suffering from acute malnutrition and required urgent care. 

Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) reports estimate that this number could rise by March 2020 to 4.1 million people — which would represent 40% of Haiti’s population. Among those hit hardest are Haitians living in rural areas — which are often harder to reach — and Haitians living in very poor urban districts, such as Cité Soleil in Port au Prince.

While this is a result of Haiti’s current conflict and social unrest, these aren’t the only causes. The IPC also attributes Haiti’s growing hunger crisis to the effects of climate change, exacerbated by El Niño winds in the first half of 2019. Drought in Haiti reduced harvests by about 12% compared to last year. Rising food prices are also to blame, following an annual inflation rate of just under 23% combined with the depreciation of the gourd against the dollar by 24% year-over-year. 

4. Fuel shortages are threatening even more lives

Inflation gave rise to the current insecurity, protests, and struggle in Haiti, with fuel shortages in August pushing many Haitians to protests that have interrupted the country’s day-to-day operations. However, those most suffering from the fuel shortages are unable to protest. An October 2019 report by the New York Times revealed that hospitals have cut services or closed outright due to gas shortages. Those who are able to reach hospitals aren’t guaranteed the treatment they need, as these hospitals may also be short on necessary supplies and medications. Or the hospitals may be short-staffed if doctors and nurses aren’t able to get to work because of the protests. The Times reported at least one patient at the Sainte Croix Hospital in Léogâne died “because of a lack of crucial medicine.”

“Prevention of future violence, and sustained support for the most vulnerable — especially children — should be our guiding principles to ensure the next generation does not pursue violence as its only option.” — Kwanli Kladstrup, Concern Haiti Director

5. There’s a chance to prevent future violence

The contributing factors to Haiti’s crisis also contribute to a rise in the country’s levels of extreme poverty. This in turn creates a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction, deprivation, and desperation, and violence that is borne out of this frustration but, ultimately, only exacerbates the situation.

While getting urgent help to those who need it most is at the top of most humanitarian agendas, the larger picture reveals that we need to make greater policy changes towards climate response, resilience, and climate justice, while also helping Haitians develop more sustainable livelihoods, stronger infrastructure, and greater opportunities for education. 

As Kwanli Kladstrup, Concern’s Haiti Country Director, notes: “Prevention of future violence, and sustained support for the most vulnerable — especially children — should be our guiding principles to ensure the next generation does not pursue violence as its only option. The potentially violent actors of tomorrow are the children of today. Therefore, it is most important that their rights to education, good health, and protection are fulfilled; and right now that is just not happening.” 

Concern in Haiti

Concern has worked in Haiti since 1994, when we responded to Hurricane Gordon. We’ve been involved in emergency response ever since, including those to the 2010 earthquake, Hurricane Tomas, and Hurricane Matthew. Some of our key activities include: 

  • Youth training with young leaders to encourage the next generation of Haitians to use peaceful dialogue and debate in lieu of violence
  • Urban child protection encouraging communities to understand the consequences of violence against children, targeting 500 extremely poor households 
  • Emergency response including the 2018 floods caused by heavy rains, natural disasters, and climate change
  • Life skills provided to 400 of the most vulnerable members of the community so that they may increase their income and support their families

Concern works in Cité Soleil, one of the most vulnerable slum areas of Port-au-Prince, which is also being hit hard by violence and exposure to numerous hazards, all of which puts more children at risk. Our project “Timoun djanm Jodi, sosyete djanm demen” (“Children standing tall today for a strong society tomorrow”) aims to transform the futures of children in extreme poverty by focusing on children, their families, and the community at large.

Berne Fransely of Cité Soleil, Port au Prince, at a training and mentoring session for people taking part in Concern’s Urban Integrated Program. This section of the program is designed to assist them with income-generating activities. It is modeled on the graduation program. Photo: Kieran McConville/ Concern Worldwide

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