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As Violence and Hunger Persist, Haitians Struggle to Adapt and Survive

Credit: Anadolu/Getty Images

Credit: Anadolu/Getty Images

May 30, 2024 – Three months since the start of the current crisis, Haitians continue to face a volatile and dangerous reality marked by daily violence (including sexual violence), hunger, and displacement. The official start of what is expected to be an active hurricane season (on June 1), and the arrival of a multinational police force add new layers of uncertainty to an already fragile context.

“What we are now witnessing here in Haiti is a population struggling to adapt to incredible hardship, people creating new ways of surviving, of living with levels of violence that have yet again sharply increased since February,” said Muhamed Bizimana, CARE’s Assistant Country Director in Haiti. “NGOs are working around the clock to respond to people’s needs. There’s a mistaken impression that because of the gangs, no work can take place. But really, the biggest limitation is that the humanitarian response is so poorly funded, especially for local NGOs. There are very limited resources to do the work that needs to be done.”

Major supply-chain disruptions, a significant drop in purchasing power, difficulty accessing cash, as well as burned and looted shops, have all worsened Haiti’s hunger crisis. According to the IPC food classification system, more than 4.97 million Haitians are acutely food insecure, 1.64 million of whom are experiencing emergency levels of hunger, just one step away from famine-like conditions. Moreover, with only 20 per cent of health facilities functioning normally – as violence has also decimated the country’s health system – access to health care, including to maternal and child health services, to sexual and reproductive health, and to GBV services, is close to impossible. This also leaves the majority of sexual violence survivors without care.

“Sometimes we feel like our beautiful Haiti is dying. With very poor security, difficult access to basic necessities like food, water, and medicine to sustain life, it is very difficult to keep going,” said Guerda Previlon, the Executive Secretary of IDEJEN (Initiative pour le Developpement des Jeunes), a local Women-Led Organization CARE has been partnering with to support displaced families in Port-au-Prince. “But we are not giving up. We think there is hope, simply because we are still here and fighting on a daily basis to find ways of feeding children, of protecting our communities and ourselves, of, simply put, surviving. But we are worried because we don’t know how long we can keep on going, especially given the limited support we get and how long this will last. We need a return to stability. But, as WLOs [Women-Led Organizations] leading the response, we desperately need funding.”

As this crisis has evolved, more people have fled their homes. According to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the country is approaching 400,000, 60 percent of whom have fled to the provinces from the capital city. The most vulnerable are finding refuge in locations that lack basic services and are ill equipped to accommodate so many people.

Supported by CARE, Previlon and her organization IDEJEN works in about 20 out of over 90 temporary sites for displaced people in Port-au-Prince.

“The living conditions of these families, children, young people, girls and women, are very difficult in these sites. There is one sanitary block and showers for everybody: old, young, men, boys, all together. There is no privacy at all, they are all in the same place at the same time and this causes serious protection risks, especially for women and girls. There’s not enough food or potable water,” said Previlon of the sites.
She added: “We are in the rainy season, so every night it’s raining, and in the morning, the sites are flooded, posing risks for all sorts of illnesses. It’s so difficult to ensure a minimum of dignity under these conditions. The sanitation is so bad. Cases of cholera have already been recorded and this could further spread into an outbreak at any time.”

Previlon also spoke of instances of sexual violence in the displacement sites as well as skin conditions due to poor hygiene. Menstrual hygiene management is particularly difficult in such conditions.

As part of their partnership with IDEJEN, CARE is helping the organization support vulnerable families on their journey out of the capital.

“People are desperate to escape the violence and leave the capital,” said CARE’s Bizimana. “But now, the influx of Internally Displaced Populations in towns like Les Cayes and Jacmel where many have fled has put a huge strain on the limited local resources of already very poor communities. My colleagues tell me thousands of food insecure families are further struggling with the burden of displaced relatives they are hosting. All of Haiti is impacted by the crisis. But the local solidarity we are witnessing is heartwarming. We have a moral obligation to support that.”

While the mandate of the international force is to support the Haitian National Police to re-establish security across the country and secure control over critical infrastructure such as the international airport, ports, schools, hospitals and key roadways that have been impacted by gang activity, there are concerns that the presence of international police will heighten tensions and lead to another spike in violence.

Every escalation of violence exposes women and girls to gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse, sometimes at the hands of those mandated to protect them. It is critical that the new force is adequately trained and equipped to implement its full obligations to protect civilians, including women and girls, and that robust safeguarding measures and women and girls-friendly community reporting mechanisms are established and/or strengthened.

To ensure the relevance and effectiveness of these mechanisms, it is essential to ensure the full, direct and substantial involvement of Haitian Women-Led and Women Rights Organizations. Haitian WLOs have a vision of peace for Haiti. They must be part of the current humanitarian response but also of the rebuilding of Haiti.

CARE in Haiti

CARE has worked in Haiti since 1954. Over the past several years, up until now, the organization has provided cash, nutrition, livelihood, and gender-based violence support via five field locations outside the capital. While this work continues, CARE is now supporting local partners to extend many of these services to newly-displaced individuals, with a focus on women and girls, in Port-au-Prince.

About CARE

Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE places special focus on working alongside women and girls. Equipped with the proper resources women and girls have the power to lift whole families and entire communities out of poverty. In 2023, CARE worked in 109 countries, reaching 167 million people through more than 1,600 projects. To learn more, visit www.care.org.


For media inquiries, please contact: usa.media@care.org.

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