Explainer: What’s driving Haiti’s humanitarian crisis?
Haiti is facing a humanitarian crisis, with shortages of food, fuel and water causing catastrophic hunger, and the government pleading for military assistance from abroad.
What is causing the crisis?
The trigger for the current crisis is the blockade of a key fuel terminal by armed gangs that began in September. That has led to shortages of gasoline and diesel and halted most transport, in turn creating shortages of basic goods, including clean water.
Who are the gangs leading the blockade?
The blockade is being led by a coalition of gangs called G9, which controls areas in and around the capital Port-au-Prince. The group’s leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, is a former police officer who has been the target of sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department for his role in a 2018 massacre.
He and other gang leaders are considered the de facto authority in areas including Cite Soleil, a poor coastal town that has suffered brutal outbreaks of gang violence this year. It was also where the first cases were reported in an outbreak of cholera in October.
What do the gangs want?
The G9 on Sept. 12 dug trenches outside the main entrance of the Varreux fuel terminal to protest an announcement by Prime Minister Ariel Henry that the government was cutting fuel subsidies. Barbecue, who said higher fuel costs would harm the Haitian people, appeared in October in an online video at the entrance to the terminal demanding that Henry resign.
Why are the gangs so powerful?
Haitian gangs have expanded their control over the country’s territory since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
The killing, which involved Colombian mercenaries, created a political power vacuum. Henry has governed on an interim basis since, even though the constitution calls for both a president and prime minister.
Haiti was already in political crisis before the assassination, having failed to hold scheduled elections in 2019. It no longer has a functioning parliament because the terms of lawmakers have expired, but few believe an election can be held under the current circumstances.
What has been the impact of the blockade?
The fuel shortages have halted most economic activities.
Hospitals have either shut their doors or curtailed their operations because they cannot power diesel generators, which are necessary to maintain stable electricity in Haiti because the power grid is unreliable.
The United Nations says Haiti is witnessing catastrophic hunger, with more than 4 million Haitians facing acute food insecurity.
Civil unrest is on the rise, and anti-government protests have at times devolved into looting. Haitians report increased incidence of gun battles in residential areas that are waged between rival gangs or with police.
The gangs are using sexual violence, including against children and the elderly, in order to instill fear in the local population, the United Nations said.
How has the international community reacted?
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed a “rapid action force” to confront the gangs and reopen the terminal, while the United States and Mexico have proposed a security mission that would be led by an unnamed “partner country.”
That came after Haiti asked for international military assistance.
Allies including Canada and the United States have promised to provide security assistance to Haiti, but have not offered to send troops. The Bahamas has said it would send troops if asked to do so.
Most countries appear wary of military involvement.
A U.N. stabilization force that operated in Haiti between 2004 and 2017 faced intense criticism, including over its role in a deadly cholera outbreak.