Navigating humanitarian challenges amid armed group violence in Haiti

With armed groups exerting control over extensive areas of the country, humanitarian access is severely impeded. Global Surge deployees are reinforcing their commitment to support international organizations aiding vulnerable populations.

Aerial view of Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Google Earth

Over the past few years, Haiti has faced a series of devastating cholera outbreaks, cyclones, and earthquakes. Marred by a prolonged political void, Haiti continues its descent into violence. Hundreds of armed groups are controlling large swathes of the country, mainly in the capital, Port-au-Prince, metropolitan area.  

Since January 2023, the  Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recorded 5,599 cases of armed-group-related violence , a sharp increase from the previous year. This marks a further deepening of the  profound humanitarian crisis in the island nation. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 5 million Haitians, nearly half of the population, need humanitarian assistance.  

Due to a prolonged economic downturn, 59% of Haiti's population is now grappling with poverty, worsened by soaring inflation. 4.35 million are facing high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC), notes Mohamed Dabo, an Information Management Officer (IMO) deployed to the Food Security cluster. On the health front, cholera cases are on the rise, with nearly 70,000 suspected cases reported since October 2022, of which over 4,000 have been confirmed (Ministry of Public Health and Population). Distressingly, 40% of the confirmed cases are children under 10. Besides, access to clean water remains a critical issue, with only 55% of the population having this essential resource. 

In addition, violence has driven thousands to flee their homes. "200,000 people are displaced in the country – mainly in Port-au-Prince. There are also pockets of people in the North, in the Artibonite, and in the South that was hit by an earthquake in 2021,” said Alca Kuvituanga, an IMO seconded to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for the Shelter and Non-Food Items Cluster 

Insecurity is the driving force behind the displacements, with 93% attributed to gang violence (IOM). “Gangs are determined to expand their territory through violent confrontations,” describes Alca. “This leaves the population with no recourse but to flee – to escape the violence.” 

Beyond territorial control, these armed groups are also strategically targeting pivotal areas to secure control over vital access routes. "In certain regions, humanitarian aid workers and the general population find it virtually impossible to move without encountering checkpoints, making humanitarian access one of our greatest challenges”, explains Kevin Ancavil, an IMO deployed with OCHA in Port-au-Prince. "To address this, we are monitoring and mapping the expansion of armed groups territories and their movements. Collaboration with local partners to share experiences and incidents helps us pinpoint areas where access is particularly problematic.”  

However, gathering accurate and timely data in Haiti is often fraught with difficulties. For example, the most recent official population census took place in 2003, and while data collection lags, displacements are occurring at a rapid pace. "Our duty is to provide aid. But first, we need to know where the persons in need are,” emphasizes Kevin. 

In response to the data limitations and other hurdles, IMOs in Haiti are embracing collaboration and shared efforts. "We place heavy reliance on the local IM Working Group, fostering a culture of sharing to gain deeper insights into the situation,” notes Alca. 

As the challenges continue to mount, IMOs deployed by the iMMAP Inc’s  Global Surge Team  in Haiti are beginning to witness the impact of their work on the ground.  

"When I commenced my deployment in June, the clusters were virtually nonfunctional, necessitating their reactivation. After a few months, we can now produce our first maps, pinpointing partner locations and 3W data. For instance, during the recent tropical storm Franklin, we were able to respond promptly and provide timely assistance to our partners.” Alca Kuvituanga, IMO seconded to the IOM for the Shelter and Non-Food Items Cluster

Carrefour-Feuilles, pictured here on 2 November 2023, is one of many districts of Port-au-Prince that has been effectively taken over by gangs, who now control some 80% of the capital, according to the UN.

On the front of food security, the situation remains bleak. However, the Food Security cluster and its partners are resolutely focused on addressing the most pressing issues. " At the beginning of the year, 19,000 individuals were classified in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5), a classification characterized by an extreme form of hunger. Through concerted efforts, we <mobilized partners and organized responses to assist them. They have now moved out of Phase 5. Additionally, we have witnessed a decline from 48% to 44% in the population facing severe food insecurity”, explains Mohamed. 

In the face of ongoing access challenges, Kevin and his OCHA team also maintain a steadfast commitment to improving their efforts. “As humanitarians, our mission is to deliver aid to those in need,” states Kevin. “Therefore, we will continue our relentless pursuit of delivering ever more precise and timely analyses to enhance humanitarian access.” 

In a Haiti grappling with substantial challenges and constrained funding (with humanitarian funding coverage at just 26%), the IMOs stand ready to persist in supporting relief endeavors in a country confronting daunting adversity. 

With the long-standing support of the USAID - Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), our Global Surge Team has been providing surge capacity support in emergency operations since 2012 through the Standby Partnership Program.