UNITED NATIONS -- A record 4.7 million people in Haiti are facing acute hunger, including 19,000 in catastrophic famine conditions for the first time, all in a slum controlled by gangs in the capital, according to a report released Friday.
The U.N. World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization said unrelenting crises have trapped Haitians “in a cycle of growing desperation, without access to food, fuel, markets, jobs and public services, bringing the country to a standstill.”
The Cite Soleil district of the capital, Port-au-Prince, where violence has increased as armed gangs vye for control, is facing the most urgent need of humanitarian assistance, they said.
The report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, which is a global partnership of 15 U.N. agencies and international humanitarian groups, paints a grim picture of escalating hunger in Latin the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country,
The partnership uses five categories of food security, from Phase 1 in which people have enough to eat to Phase 5 in which households have an extreme lack of food and face famine, starvation, death and destitution. The 19,000 people in Cite Soleil are now in the latter group, the report said.
According to the analysis, a record 4.7 million Haitians are in the three worst categories — 2.9 million in “crisis” Phase 3 characterized by gaps in food consumption and acute malnutrition, 1.8 million in “emergency” Phase 4 in which there are large gaps in food consumption, very high acute malnutrition and excess deaths, and 19,000 in “famine” Phase 5.
The report said food security has also continued to deteriorate in Haiti's rural areas, with several dropping from the “crisis” phase into the “emergency” phase.
The World Food Program and the Food and Argiculture Organization said food insecurity has increased over the past three years and 65% of Haitians “are in high levels of food insecurity with 5% of them in urgent need of humanitarian assistance."
Haiti has been gripped by inflation and political gridlock that have exacerbated protests and brought society to the breaking point.
Daily life in the country began to spin out of control last month just hours after Prime Minister Ariel Henry said fuel subsidies would be eliminated, causing prices to double. Rising prices have put food and fuel out of reach of many Haitians, clean water is scarce, and the country is trying to deal with a cholera outbreak.
“Harvest losses due to below average rainfall and last year’s earthquake that devastated parts of the country’s south are among the shocks that worsened conditions for people,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
He said violence, unrest and tensions in Cite Soleil have limited access by humanitarian workers to the district.
“So, we don’t know necessarily how bad it’s getting, although it’s very clear it’s very bad, indeed. And we need to get access to people; we need to make sure that we can get food to people,” he said.
The World Food Program is seeking $105 million for the next six months, while the Food and Agriculture Organization said it urgently needs some $33 million.
Jean-Martin Bauer, country director in Haiti for the World Food Program, said, “We all need to be steadfast and focus on delivering urgent humanitarian assistance and supporting long-term development.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization’s representative in Haiti, Jose Luis Fernandez Filgueiras, said, “We need to help Haitians produce better, more nutritious food to safeguard their livelihoods and their futures.”