Gangs, Hunger, Inflation: UN Convenes Special Meeting on Haiti

  • Posted on: 16 June 2023
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

Record hunger, armed gangs and raging inflation: U.N. convenes special meeting on Haiti crisis


Miami Herald


While Haiti continues to descend into chaos, the rural northeast region of the country is one of the few places that remains relatively calm. Still, the area remains volatile as factories layoff employees and the economy and humanitarian situation continue to worsen. In Haiti’s rice-growing Lower Artibonite Valley, fertilizer and seeds are luxuries farmers can no longer afford. Rain is sporadic, and when it comes it can be more of a curse than a cure. Even locally produced foods are out of reach. It is not only because armed gangs control key routes in and out of the capital, but because the inflation rate for such local products has increased by 42.3% and for imports by 57.8%, between March of 2022 and March of this year.

“If we don’t find a way to help the farmers, then by the time we arrive in August, September, there will be a huge famine in Verrettes,” said Jacquis Adolphe, who runs the rural town of Verrettes in the Lower Artibonite Valley, known for its rice and beans production. “If there is something to be done, it has to be done now, because we don’t have the luxury of time.” That reality isn’t lost on U.N. aid agencies that are facing record hunger, raging inflation and a cholera outbreak that together with Haiti’s escalating gang violence is leading to some of the worst child malnutrition rates the country has seen in years.

With millions of hungry children caught in the gangs’ crossfire, unable to go to school and almost half of the country’s population — 5.2 million people — in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council is convening a special meeting Friday with the goal of mobilizing an international response to the food crisis. “We’re doing this in order to draw attention once again, and to try to convince countries to understand the way in which these issues are linked,” Bob Rae, Canada’s U.N. ambassador and chairman of the council’s Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, said in an interview with the Miami Herald.

While the food crisis in Haiti is affected by climate change, the country’s weather and the war on Ukraine — which has raised the price of products like wheat — it has been made worse by the violence and the ongoing political instability. In April, the U.N. launched an unprecedented $719 million humanitarian response plan for Haiti. It is almost double what the global agency asked for last year, and it’s the largest amount since the country’s capital and neighboring towns were decimated in 2010 by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. Despite the acute needs, only 20% of the plan has been funded, the U.N. said, noting that recent floods in eight of the country’s 10 departments, followed days later by another deadly earthquake in the Grand’Anse region, have exacerbated the humanitarian needs. The floods alone left at least 58 people dead and another 143 others injured, while more than 37,000 homes were either destroyed, damaged or flooded, according to the latest report from Haiti’s disaster response agency, the Office of Civil Protection.

 “There’s an urgent humanitarian situation,” Rae said. He said the U.N. Haiti advisory group is trying to go beyond the immediate humanitarian response. “What we’re really trying to introduce into the conversation is the need for Haiti to be able to become more self-sufficient in food production,” Rae said. “That’s an issue around development; looking at ways of building up the agricultural food chain; how we can create a capacity not only to grow food, but also to process and to create a food industry in Haiti.” Deepening hunger and the dependence of on food imports is not unique to Haiti. The issue came up during last week’s meeting between Vice President Kamala Harris and members of the 15-member Caribbean Community in the Bahamas. 

In Haiti, however, the lack of food is acute and is contributing to the country’s deepening humanitarian crisis. According to the latest statistics from Haiti’s finance ministry, the cost of rice on average has increased by 59%, meat 6.5%, milk 53% and cooking oil 77% between March of 2022 and March of this year. Meanwhile, transportation costs have also more than doubled in the same period. “Food and transportation represent more than 65 percent of the budget of poor families,” said economist Kesner Pharel. “It’s tough even for people who got a job like in the assembly sector with a minimum wage greatly affected by strong inflationary pressures. They can be classified as ‘working poor’.” The country also. suffered a drought at the beginning of the year. All of this has been been made even more challenging by the gang violence that has now expanded into places like the Artibonite Valley. Friday’s U.N. donor meeting is being organized around humanitarian needs, the security problems in Haiti are also an important part of the discussion. The high-level gathering will include addresses by the head of the Economic and Social Council, the prime ministers of Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Haiti’s planning minister, World Food Program Executive Director Cindy McCain, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and Rae. It will be followed by a roundtable discussion involving representatives of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the U.N.’s humanitarian chief in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson, among others. The area of Vye Bouk in Verrettes in Haiti’s Lower Artibonite Valley, where farmers are struggling to work the land and find enough to eat. Courtesy of Jacquis Adolphe The meeting comes on the heels of two other gatherings —a meeting of foreign ministers on Thursday hosted by Canada Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly and three days of inter-Haitian political dialogue in Jamaica that concluded Tuesday.

 Russell, the UNICEF chief, will travel to Haiti to see the effects of the crisis first hand in hopes of galvanizing international support. “The picture is a dark one,” John Victor Geneus, Haiti’s foreign minister, said Thursday as he attended the ministers’ meeting. “The Haitian people are demanding concrete solutions. A return to security and stability is necessary to address the socio-economic crisis and to deal with extreme poverty. We need to come up with quick solutions for the people who are living in inhumane conditions. The situation in the country is catastrophic.” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a videotaped address to the ministers on Thursday. “Record hunger, a deadly cholera outbreak, immense human suffering worsened by recent floods and earthquakes,” he said. “More than 165,00 Haitians forced from their homes by rampant gang activity and millions more lives upended by the violence. “The Haitian people need our full support,” Blinken said, “They need it now.” That support, he said, has to start with making Haiti safe. Blinken detailed recent U.S. assistance to the Haitian national police and said the U.S. continues to support deployment of a multinational force to Haiti, a request Rae said Canada is still discussing. “Once a lead nation commits, we will need your robust support to secure a U.N. Security Council authorization for this important mission,” Blinken said. He stressed, however, that a multinational force “is not and must not be a substitute for political dialogue” in Haiti.

The U.S. joined others in encouraging Prime Minister Ariel Henry and other political, economic, religious and civil society representatives in Haiti to launch a serious process. The momentum forged this week during the three-day conference in Jamaica, he said, “must be sustained.” Jamaica Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith said the talks achieved “progress.”. Jamaica is “keen on seeing an improvement in Haiti security, which we believe will provide the conditions necessary to resolve the humanitarian aspects of the crises as well as the necessary focus on governance.” Smith Johnson, said Jamaica continues to support the call by the U.S., Haiti and the U.N. Secretary General António Guterres for foreign forces, and continues to offer its participation. The situation on the ground in Haiti is fragile, Rae emphasized, echoing the assessments made by the Canadian foreign minister, Joly during the Thursday gathering, and there needs a coordinated response by the international community, which he hopes will happen Friday. “Until we deal with the security situation, we can’t deal with anything,” Rae said, quoting a Haitian farmer whom he met on one of his many trips he has made to the country in the past year. “But we also have an urgent need to look at what is the economy that will emerge from this crisis, because the crisis has to also be dealt with.”

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas. 

Photo Credit: UNICEF

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