Haiti on ‘brink of civil war’, humanitarian group warns

Mercy Corps sounds the alarm about escalating violence between gangs and civilians as Haiti faces a hunger crisis.

Police officers with helmets, protective vests and riffles stand in desolate street near a white and green wall
Police patrol the streets after gang members tried to attack a police station in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on April 25 [File: Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

Haiti is on the “brink of a civil war”, the humanitarian group Mercy Corps has warned, as violence between criminal gangs and civilians risks spiralling.

Mercy Corps said on Monday that the deteriorating security situation and rising prices have also sparked a hunger crisis in the Caribbean nation.

With the escalating violence — particularly in the capital Port-au-Prince, where gangs have taken over large parts of the city — families are losing access to basic necessities, including food and clean water, the group added.

“The population has been pushed to make impossible decisions, like choosing between taking children to a hospital or health clinics to treat cholera at the risk of being kidnapped and killed, or staying home and hoping they will get better,” said Lunise Jules, Mercy Corps country director for Haiti.

Jules added that many residents are starting to question, “Why not seek revenge and take justice into their own hands?”

Last week, a mob lynched at least 13 suspected gang members who had been arrested in Port-au-Prince.

The violence has been exacerbated by a series of crises facing the country of more than 11 million residents. Haiti has suffered from periodic natural disasters, gang violence, a cholera outbreak and long-standing political instability made worse by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

Haiti’s de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, has faced a crisis of legitimacy. He was chosen for the post by Moise just days before the president was killed. Presidential and legislative elections have been postponed indefinitely since 2021, preventing any political transition.

Meanwhile, widespread violence has impeded access to healthcare facilities, forced the closure of schools and clinics, and worsened food insecurity, with residents of gang-controlled areas cut off from critical supplies.

Mercy Corps, which provides cash assistance to tens of thousands of people in Haiti, said on Monday that nearly half the country’s population is starving because of the crisis.

“Haiti is not a functional country anymore,” Judes Jonathas, the group’s deputy programme director in Haiti, said in the statement.

Last week, Maria Isabel Salvador, the head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), raised concerns about the “surge of violence” in the country.

Speaking to the UN Security Council, Salvador said 1,674 homicides, rapes, kidnappings and lynchings were reported in the first quarter of 2023 — an uptick from 692 such incidents in the same period a year earlier.

“Gang violence is expanding at an alarming rate in areas previously considered relatively safe in Port-au-Prince and outside the capital,” she said.

“The horrific violence in gang-ridden areas, including sexual violence, particularly against women and girls, is emblematic of the terror afflicting much of Haiti’s population.”

Source: Al Jazeera