About 8,500 women and children in Haiti displaced by ‘urban guerrilla’ in two weeks

A new wave of gang violence in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince forced nearly 8,500 women and children to flee their homes in just two weeks, UNICEF alerted.

Since early June, new clashes between rival armed gangs have erupted in the urban areas of Martissant, Fontamara and Delmas and led to hundreds of houses being burned down or damaged.

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“Every time, clashes between armed groups are more violent and every time more women and children are forced to flee their homes,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Haiti Representative. “Since the beginning of this year, insecurity has been escalating. But the capital city is now facing an urban guerrilla, with thousands of children and women caught in the crossfire. The displaced families I’ve talked to have lost everything and urgently need clean water, food, personal hygiene items, mattresses, blankets and clothes.”

In just two weeks, 2,045 women and 2,146 children have found refuge in the other areas of the capital city such as Carrefour and Bas Delmas. In addition, some 5,110 other displaced people including approximately 2095 women and 2,199 children are reported to be housed by host families in Carrefour or other neighbouring areas or left to other parts of the country.

For the past nine months, escalating violence and criminal acts in the capital city of Haiti have caused the displacement of more than 13,900 people, according to the UN office in charge of humanitarian coordination (UNOCHA) with approximately 5,695 women and 5,984 children. About 650,000 people are currently affected by displacement in Haiti, with 500,000 in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince.

A survey conducted by UNICEF in May reveals that one in five young people in Haiti believes that violence prevents children from going to school, and nearly one in two reports that fear is the main effect of violence on children.

This recent spike of violence unravels amidst the upsurge of COVID-19 cases in Haiti. From 1 April to 5 June 2021, confirmed cases have risen from 12,840 to 16,079, with a lethality rate increasing from 1.95% to 2.15%. During the same period, Haiti registered more than 27 per cent of all 346 deaths since the onset of the pandemic last year.

“COVID-19 cases in Haiti have never been so high since the beginning of the pandemic but right now, some patients are dying because armed gang violence prevents ambulances from reaching them oxygen and emergency treatment,” said Bruno Maes. “That is unacceptable. Health workers must immediately have full access to all areas to transport patients who need emergency assistance, and their lifesaving job should not be hampered by armed groups. Providing humanitarian aid to displaced women and children in shelters is not good enough. Many are still left without any humanitarian assistance in host families. Unless we regain access to areas affected by gang violence, more lives are at risk of being lost.”

Amidst growing insecurity and gang violence in the capital city, UNICEF is urgently calling on the armed groups to provide all humanitarian actors with unrestricted access to affected populations.

This upsurge of violence also erupted in the hurricanes season with fears of increased and frequent rains doubling risks of water-borne diseases and acute respiratory infections for children. Many children suffer from malnutrition in urban areas of Port-au-Prince like Martissant and Fontamara with high rates of vulnerability and limited access to basic social services.

Despite constrained humanitarian access to the area of Martissant and Fontamara, UNICEF was able to quickly distribute emergency items to the displaced women and children sheltered in a gymnasium earlier last week, including 700 hygiene kits, 700 jerry cans, 20 five-family hygiene kits, 10,000 masks, 212 mattresses and 70 plastic tarpaulins.

UNICEF is also supporting with medical items an integrated mobile health clinic to screen and treat malnutrition among displaced children and providing antenatal consultations and HIV testing to pregnant women.

For 2021, UNICEF is seeking US$48.9 million to meet the humanitarian needs of 1.5 million people in Haiti including over 700,000 children, a situation which has been significantly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, this humanitarian appeal has remained almost completely underfunded.

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