UNICEF reports thousands of children in Haiti are malnourished amid gang siege

At least 15,000 Haitian children are suffering from malnutrition as violence is cutting off lifesaving supplies from arriving.
A server ladles soup into a container as children line up to receive food at a shelter for families displaced by gang violence.
Posted at 7:21 PM, Apr 23, 2024

Amid ruthlessly violent, armed-to-the-teeth rival gangs marauding throughout 90% of their country, Haiti’s 3 million children face acute risks from starvation.

The United Nations Security Council is sounding the alarm about a spiraling situation that has made the country too unsafe for the world body’s own humanitarian organizations, like UNICEF, to come to the rescue.

"The insecurity in Port-au-Prince has made it virtually impossible for health and nutrition supplies to reach at least 58,000 children suffering from severe wasting in the metropolitan area,” said Catherine Mary Russell, UNICEF’S executive director.

Severe wasting is a life-threatening form of malnutrition. According to UNICEF, already 15,000 Haitian children are at the malnutrition stage, as violence is cutting off lifesaving supplies from arriving by land, air and sea.

Satellite images show how the gangs have barricaded off cranes at the capital city’s main port, leaving 300 containers of humanitarian supplies stranded.

Another route of entry was blocked off last month when government soldiers lost control of the city’s international airport. They were outgunned by the gang to whom they abandoned it.

UNICEF estimates half of these armed groups include children recruited or forced into their ranks.

"All children associated with armed groups encountered by security forces must be treated primarily as victims, and safely handed over to child protection actors,” Russell said.

But there is no timetable or solid plan for restoring order to the country. The hope is that the gangs will allow a seven-member transitional council, which has yet to be seated, to restore governance and appoint a new prime minister. For the moment, plans for Kenya to lead a multinational force as part of a U.N.-backed mission, remain in the planning phase.

Meanwhile, supplies at Haiti’s few remaining hospitals are dwindling and medical care is descending to medieval levels. Lifesaving medications are now almost entirely unavailable to cancer and AIDS patients; even inhalers for asthma sufferers have run out.

Humanitarian organizations are building out logistical infrastructure in Cap-Haitien, where a secondary international airport and a port remain operational. But there is currently no safe route to deliver food and medicine to those taking cover amid the anarchy and gang brutality.