Haiti gang blockade is causing catastrophic hunger, U.N. officials say

MIAMI, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Haitians are facing catastrophic hunger as gangsters blockade a major fuel terminal, UN officials said on Friday, and more than 4 million people face acute food insecurity.

A coalition of gangs has blocked diesel and petrol distribution for over a month to protest a plan to cut fuel subsidies. Most transports are stopped, looting and gang shootings are becoming more frequent.

“We have famine in Haiti for the first time,” Ulrika Richardson, resident and humanitarian coordinator for the UN system in Haiti, said in a telephone interview.

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“Gang violence cut the capital off from the food-producing south and that means we now have an increase in food insecurity.”

A UN spokesman later clarified that Richardson should have described the situation in terms of catastrophic starvation rather than famine.

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Richardson said other countries needed to do more to help Haiti because the Caribbean country’s humanitarian relief plan received less than 30% of the required funding this year.

“As we deal with the current symptoms of the multiple crises facing Haitians … the security crisis and the fuel crisis — we also need to make sure we invest in the longer-term causes of impunity and corruption,” said Richardson, the senior UN humanitarian officials in Haiti.

Around 19,200 people in Haiti’s Cite Soleil are suffering from starvation conditions, according to an analysis by UN agencies and aid groups on Friday. A famine is declared when at least 20% of the households in a region suffer from starvation conditions.

The analysis says that a total of 4.7 million people – almost half of Haiti’s population – suffer from high levels of acute food insecurity.

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The situation is “close to breaking point,” Jean-Martin Bauer, country director of the World Food Program in Haiti, previously told reporters.

A UN report released on Friday says children as young as 10 and older women have been subjected to sexual violence, including hours of collective rape in front of their parents or children.

“Gangs are using sexual violence to incite fear and, alarmingly, cases are rising by the day as Haiti’s humanitarian and human rights crisis deepens,” said Nada Al-Nashif, acting human rights chief.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry last week asked for foreign military support to fight the gangs, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed “a rapid reaction force” to help Haiti’s police force.

It is not immediately apparent which countries would participate in such a force.

The US development agency USAID dispatched a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Haiti on Friday, the agency’s boss, Samantha Power, wrote on Twitter.

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Such teams are dispatched in response to natural disasters and complex emergencies and typically include infectious disease specialists, nutritionists and logistics experts, according to USAID’s website.

The US State Department has offered assistance to Haitian police and has dispatched a Coast Guard vessel to patrol the area.

The United States and Canada will supply Haitian police with armored vehicles purchased by Haiti in the coming days, US Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said in an interview with Haitian TV on Thursday.

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Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Miami and Paul Carrel, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Diane Craft

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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