Health

Hunger soars and aid dwindles as gangs in Haiti suffocate the country

Hunger soars and aid dwindles as gangs in Haiti suffocate the country

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A crowd of about 100 people tried to shove through a metal gate in Haiti’s capital as a guard with a baton pushed them back, threatening to hit them. Undeterred, children and adults alike, some of them carrying babies, kept elbowing each other trying to enter.

“Let us in! We’re hungry!” they shouted on a recent afternoon.

They were trying to get into a makeshift shelter in an abandoned school. Inside, workers dipped ladles into buckets filled with soup that they poured into Styrofoam containers stuffed with rice to distribute to Haitians who have lost homes to gang violence.

About 1.4 million Haitians are on the verge of famine, and more than 4 million require food aid, sometimes eating only once a day or nothing at all, aid groups say.

“Haiti is facing a protractive and mass hunger,” Jean-Martin Bauer, Haiti director for the United Nations’ World Food Program, told The Associated Press. He noted that Croix-des-Bouquets, in the eastern part of Haiti’s capital, “has malnutrition rates comparable with any war zone in the world.”

Officials are trying to rush food, water and medical supplies to makeshift shelters and other places as gang violence suffocates lives across Port-au-Prince and beyond, with many trapped in their homes.

Only a few aid organizations have been able to restart since Feb. 29, when gangs began attacking key institutions, burning police stations, shutting down the main international airport with gunfire and storming two prisons, releasing more than 4,000 inmates.

The violence forced Prime Minister Ariel Henry to announce early Tuesday that he would resign once a transitional council is created, but gangs demanding his ouster have continued their attacks in several communities.

Bauer and other officials said that the gangs are blocking distribution routes and paralyzing the main port, and that WFP’s warehouse is running out of grains, beans and vegetable oil as it continues to deliver meals.

“We have supplies for weeks. I’m saying weeks, not months,” Bauer said. “That has me terrified.”

Inside the makeshift shelter at the school, things were a bit more orderly, with scores of people standing in line for food. More than 3,700 shelter residents compete for a place to sleep and share a hole in the ground for a toilet.

Marie Lourdes Geneus, a 45-year-old street vendor and mother of seven children, said that gangs chased her family out of three different homes before they ended up at the shelter.

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