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Haiti: Children facing triple threat of insecurity, malnutrition, disease

Over five million Haitians, including a record three million children, need humanitarian support in 2023.

Nearly five million are acutely hungry, UNICEF said, adding the dire situation is “terrorizing children and families and destroying livelihoods amid unprecedented hunger, malnutrition and a resurgent cholera epidemic.”  

Haiti was among the top five countries globally in terms of recorded cholera cases between 20 July and 31 August, and Artibonite has been worst area affected overall.  

Untenable situation

Humanitarian workers say the insecurity has made it extremely difficult, and in some cases impossible to access six of the department’s 17 communes, including Saint Marc, Verrettes and Petite Rivière – hotspots of cholera where some families are virtually besieged by the violence.  

Two of the three major water treatment plants in Artibonite have shut down due to insecurity, and the third faces distribution challenges.

Brutality, deprivation and lawlessness

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According to UNICEF, the combination of escalating insecurity, restricted access to essential health, water and sanitation services, and cholera pose particularly lethal threats to malnourished children.

The agency said at least 115,000 children in Haiti are expected to suffer from life-threatening malnutrition this year, an increase of 30 per cent over 2022, noting that in Artibonite, the number of children who are estimated to need lifesaving treatment more than doubled since 2020.

“No human being, and certainly no child, should ever have to face such shocking brutality, deprivation and lawlessness. The current situation is simply untenable,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell, who is also the designated Principal Advocate for Haiti for the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, a group of humanitarians.

Security-related challenges

UNICEF said over 100 schools have shut down due to insecurity and only one in four health facilities across the department remain accessible due to security-related challenges, noting that roughly a third of the population, nearly half of them children, now require humanitarian assistance.

Brutal violence, mirroring that seen in Port-au-Prince, has forcibly displaced families and disrupted rice and agricultural production, a lifeline for the economy. Over 22,000 people were displaced as of June, up from less than 10,000 in April.  

According to the UN agency, most have sought refuge among host communities, while hundreds shelter in precarious makeshift spaces with little access to basic services or protection from the armed groups.

Seeking refuge

“The humanitarian system, including UNICEF, is delivering and scaling up the response, but needs support from the international community in order to reach Haitian children and families who desperately need help right now,” Mr. Russell said.

The latest data from UNICEF shows that between May and June 2023, at least 60 people were killed or injured amid clashes for territory and resources between armed groups, compared with four during the same period last year.  

Nearly half of the 298 kidnappings countrywide during that period took place in Bas Artibonite, or the lower part of Artibonite, mostly involving civilians traveling on public transport.

“In one incident, 15 women heading to market were reportedly kidnapped and raped”, UNICEF said.

This week the UN Security Council adopted a resolution on creating a one-year, multinational security support mission to help address the insecurity among civilians in Haiti.  

“This needs to be accompanied by measures to safeguard humanitarian space and protect people at risk,” UNICEF said. 

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